SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council is scheduled to vote on a new police union contract that city staff members say will make it harder for fired officers to win their jobs back through the appeal process.
Council members’ approval is all that’s needed to implement the contract, which would last through September 2026. Depending on how many members vote to approve it, it would take effect either immediately or 10 days after the vote.
Negotiators for the city and the San Antonio Police Officers Association finished hammering out the tentative contract on March 2 after more than a year’s worth of meetings. On April 26, the union announced that 86% of its members who cast a ballot had voted to approve the new contract.
The negotiations largely revolved around officer discipline reforms -- an issue that took center stage nationwide in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The city negotiating team especially focused on scaling back how much authority an arbitrator has to overturn a police officer’s firing.
In San Antonio, the KSAT Defenders found roughly two-thirds of officers who appealed their indefinite suspensions ended up getting their jobs back, either by an arbitrator’s award or after the police chief reconsidered their termination.
Under the proposed contract, an arbitrator would have less authority to overturn a firing. So long as the evidence supports the decision, an arbitrator has to uphold the chief’s decision unless the chief failed to prove that keeping the officer on would be detrimental to the department or that “law and sound community expectations” warrant firing them.
The cumulative cost of the contract -- an estimated $92.7 million over five fiscal years -- includes nearly 16% worth of wage increases and expected cost savings from changes to prescription drug coverage.
SAPD’s FY 2022 general fund budget sits at $501.3 million.
Act 4 SA, a police reform group that grew out of a failed ballot initiative to repeal SAPOA’s power to bargain for a contract, is pushing for council members to vote against the proposed deal. The group says it has concerns about provisions that remain in the agreement, especially allowing suspended officers to forfeit vacation time for the suspension and a civilian review board with limited power.
The leave-in-lieu-of-suspension policy only applies to officers suspended for 45 days or less, and they can not appeal their suspension if they use that time.
The Chief’s Complaint and Administrative Review Board (CCARB) is made up of uniformed and civilian members and can advise the police chief on disciplinary cases. However, the board’s recommendations are non-binding.
Act 4 SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas expects the contract to pass despite the push. However, she hopes her group’s efforts will help set the priorities for the next negotiations or prompt a citizen or city council initiative to create a more robust police oversight solution.
At least one councilman, District 2′s Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, has said he will vote against the contract.
I’ll be voting “No” tomorrow so we can continue negotiations in hopes of addressing these same concerns. ❤️🖤 https://t.co/NkeZZlSujv— Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (@theloserteacher) May 11, 2022
You can check out the HIGHLIGHTS below or see the full, proposed contract HERE.
LIMITED ARBITRATOR POWER
The city’s number one target was limiting an arbitrator’s power to reinstate an officer who appealed their indefinite suspension, equivalent to a firing.
The KSAT Defenders found roughly two-thirds of officers who appealed their indefinite suspensions ended up getting their jobs back, either by an arbitrator’s award or after the police chief reconsidered their termination.
Under the previous contract, city officials argued an arbitrator had too much power to overrule the chief and reduce an indefinite suspension to some lesser punishment, bringing the officer back into the department.
In the new deal, an arbitrator can only overturn an indefinite suspension if the chief fails to establish that the conduct was either bad enough that keeping them on would be detrimental to the department or that “law and sound community expectations” would be good reason to fire them.
180-DAY RULE EXTENDED
The police chief now has a much longer window in which he can discipline officers for misconduct.
Previously, the chief had to issue discipline for non-criminal conduct within 180 days of it happening. Under the new deal, he’ll have 180 days of the point when he knew — or should have known — about it.
There will still be a statute of limitations on how long ago the misconduct happened — two years — though city officials say that won’t apply to criminal conduct.
The city says this is similar to what it has in the fire union contract.
NO TIME LIMITS ON PRIOR DISCIPLINE
The previous contract limited how far back the chief could go to dig up prior discipline when making his case on a new suspension -- ranging from two to 10 years, depending on the type of violation.
The new contract would get rid of those time limits, allowing the chief to include any prior discipline “that is relevant or likely to show a cause for progressive discipline.”
INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATIONS
The amount of heads-up an officer has before begin interrogated by Internal Affairs (IA) would be cut from 48 hours to 24 hours, and IA would be able to question the officer for up to eight hours, instead of six.
While an officer would still be able to review evidence beforehand, they won’t be allowed to see the statements, interviews, or recordings of any other officer who is accused for the same incident. If an officer is required to answer written questions, they would have answer them on-site and would no longer be allowed to take them home to complete.
This was the big win for the police union, whose members will get a 2% lump sum payment once the contract is finalized. They will see the following raises to their pay checks through the contract:
- Apr. 1, 2023 - 3.5% across-the-board wage increase
- Apr. 1, 2024 - 3.5% across-the-board wage increase
- Apr. 1, 2025 - 4% across-the-board wage increase
- Apr. 1, 2026 - 4% across-the-board wage increase
Taking into account compounding interest, officers’ paychecks would grow by 15.9% over the life of the contract.
The union also agreed to forego any extra pay from the $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act money that the city council approved for spending on city employees.
Additionally, the contract no longer includes a clause mandating raises that would match any the fire union gets — a longtime staple of police and fire contracts.
NO CHANGE TO EVERGREEN
The police union’s evergreen clause keeps contract’s terms in place, even after it expires. Though officers’ pay is frozen during that time, opponents of the clause argue that it gives the union unfair leverage to walk away from the bargaining table.
That was an especially big concern during the previous round of contract talks, when the city was trying to overhaul officer and firefighter health care. The city even tried to get the clause declared unconstitutional in an unsuccessful attempt to get around it during those negotiations.
Though the city ultimately got the police union to agree to cut the clause from 10 years down to eight in the last contract, the city team made no attempt to negotiate it down any further this time.
The city’s lead negotiator, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez, pointed out the clause now includes increasing health care costs during the evergreen period. The city believes that is enough of an incentive for the union to wrap things up quickly.
The union has been in evergreen for nearly eight months after the previous contract expired Sep. 30, 2021.
Although this was the key issue in the 2016-2021 contract, there was very little haggling over health care costs.
Officer health care contributions will continue to go up by 10% every year, which will continue even in an evergreen period.