San Antonio – The San Antonio City Council approved a new contract for San Antonio police officers Thursday in a 8-3 vote.
The vote followed an occasionally tense meeting that included concerns that the contract does not go far enough with reforms, and an accusation from one councilwoman that voting “no” was tantamount to “a vote to defund.”
The contract will run through September 2026 and makes numerous changes to officer discipline procedures, including: a longer time frame for the chief to discipline officers, no limits on including prior discipline to justify punishment on a new infraction, and less power for an arbitrator to give a fired officer their job back through the appeal process.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg called it “a contract that is fiscally responsible, that is transparent and that is accountable and allows our chief of police to do his job and make sure he’s commanding an excellent police department and one that we can all be proud of.”
The San Antonio Police Officers Association approved the contract in April, with the support of 86% of officers who cast a ballot.
“One of the things that I did bring to you, Mr. Mayor, and to (City Manager Erik Walsh) and other city leaders when I first took office, was we are coming to not be a hindrance,” union President Danny Diaz told council. “We are coming to work, and it’s time to change.”
The contract would boost officers’ pay checks by nearly 16% over the life of the deal and provide a 2% lump-sum payment within the next 30 days. Between the wage increases and cost savings from prescription drug coverage changes, the city expects the deal to cost an extra $92.7 million over five fiscal years.
SAPD’s FY 2022 general fund budget is $501.3 million.
The previous contract expired Sep. 30 2021, but an evergreen clause kept its tenets in place, minus any officer pay raises.
The negotiations finished on March 2 after more than a year’s worth of meetings. They 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.
Those concerns also prompted a citizen-led push to strip SAPOA of its bargaining power. The resulting ballot initiative, Proposition B, ultimately failed.
NOT FAR ENOUGH?
Act 4 SA, which grew out of the Proposition B campaign, led a group of people that pushed council members to vote against the proposed deal. The group said it has concerns about provisions that remain in the contract, especially a review board with limited power.
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, its recommendations are non-binding.
“Our (CCARB) is still dictated by this contract and has no measure of independence,” Act 4 SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas told council members. “It has no power to allow we the people to make policy recommendations. We have no ability to run independent audits or investigations. We deserve a seat at the table when it comes to the policing of our community.”
Despite her group’s push, Tomas told KSAT on Wednesday that she expected the contract to pass. However, she hoped her group’s efforts will help set the priorities for the next negotiations, or prompt a citizen or city council initiative to create a stronger police oversight solution.
City staff, though, say it would not be possible to set up an independent oversight body with investigative authority outside of the union contract.
Nirenberg said changing the CCARB had not been part of the city’s negotiation priorities.
Other issues activists raised included officers’ ability to forfeit an equal amount of paid leave time instead of taking an unpaid suspension, a desire to keep the name of accusers from officers facing allegations of misconduct, and the continued inclusion of an eight-year evergreen clause within the contract.
District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo, District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, and District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo voted against adopting the contract. All three are first-term council members who were not yet elected when the priorities for the negotiations were set.
“My ‘no’ vote is in the hopes that we can go back to the bargaining table with all of the community concerns that have been raised prior to this vote,” McKee-Rodriguez said.
Bravo said his office “received countless emails and phone calls asking me to not support this contract. And out of 123,169 residents who I represent, not one sent a letter, email or made a phone call to my office asking me to support this contract.”
Other council members acknowledged there were still things they wanted to see change with the department, but that the proposed contract was the best the city could do for now.
“I know we want to push the envelope farther, but I feel that any additional ask or negotiation at this point would require the sacrifices and progress that we’ve already made,” said District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval.
District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran prompted shouts of outrage from activists in the audience during her comments, saying “I don’t understand how my council colleagues are going to go back out into the community and explain that how a vote ‘no’ wasn’t a vote to defund.”
The fireworks moment of the @SAPOAssociation contract vote. @ElectPhyllisD3 equates voting "no" as a "vote to defund" - sparking outrage from the @Act4SATX group in the audience (including a walk-out) and @theloserteacher (1 of 3 who ended up voting "no") to walk off the dais. pic.twitter.com/hjwyx3BTUu— Garrett Brnger (@BrngerReports) May 12, 2022
All three council members who ended up voting ‘no’ denied that their opposition was about “defunding” SAPD.
Concerns about police spending were raised during the discussion, but Castillo pointedly noted that a 2021 state law “does not allow municipalities in the state of Texas to defund or divest or lower the investment in their police departments. So I encourage my colleague to read.”
You can see the full contract HERE or check out the HIGHLIGHTS below:
LIMITED ARBITRATOR POWER
The city’s number one target was limiting an arbitrator’s power to reinstate an officer who appealed their indefinite suspension, which is tantamount 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 see as 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 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 6.
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.
City staff say officers were already unable to take home evidence to review.
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 Villagomez, pointed out, though, the clause now includes increasing health care costs during the evergreen period, which the city believes is enough of an incentive for the union to wrap things up quickly.
The union has been in evergreen for nearly eight months already, 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 percent every year, which will continue even in an evergreen period.