Joaquin Castro: Local Police Union Contract "Incomplete" Without Reforms

Joaquin Castro speaking at the Democratic National Convention last month
Joaquin Castro speaking at the Democratic National Convention last month
Congressman Joaquin Castro on Thursday became the latest public official to vocally oppose the city's new contract with the San Antonio Police Officers Association, which City Council is set to vote on next week. 

“The proposed police contract is incomplete," Castro said in a prepared statement. "Of the three main issues up for negotiation – salary, benefits and accountability reform – only the first two have been addressed."

Earlier this summer, after years of litigation over an evergreen clause baked into the contract that the City of San Antonio called unconstitutional, Mayor Ivy Taylor hammered out an agreement after a judge ordered the parties into mediation. What emerged were tweaks to officer salaries and benefits (as well as a shortened evergreen clause), but the contract contained none of the police reforms that people like south side Councilman Rey Saldaña say they'd asked the city to push for. 

Saldaña, a sort of political protégé of the Castro twins, has been the loudest public official to oppose the new deal with the police union since it was made this summer. He says his opposition is rooted in Article 28 of the contract, which lays out disciplinary rules that basically make it so that department officials and arbitrators hearing a case of officer misconduct can't always consider a cop's full disciplinary history when deciding what punishment to give.

As it currently stands, if San Antonio Police Chief William McManus wants to discipline an officer, he can’t cite as justification any drug- or alcohol-related violations more than 10 years old; infractions involving “intentional violence” only follow a cop for five years; any other disciplinary action only shows up for two years. If an officer is suspended for three days or less, the department, per the contract, automatically lowers the suspension to a “written reprimand” after a couple of years. 

Both Taylor and the police union have come out hard against Saldaña, who many predict is prepping to run for mayor in next year's election—which, if true, would certainly make for a tight Van de Putte/Villarreal/Taylor-esque race, considering Councilman Ron Nirenberg is all but certain to run. Taylor, for her part, says such reforms are important but that the union won't budge. She insists pushing more could only crater the deal, which she says isn't worth it at this point. 

Meanwhile, San Antonio police union president Mike Helle tells us those reforms were never really on the table—not after the city sued them. His justification for disciplinary rules that local activists call government-sanctioned falsification of records: it prevents old-timers at the department from facing "disparity in punishment." Or as he put it in an interview with the Current earlier this week: “You can’t have different spanks for different ranks."

It's unclear whether Saldaña has enough support on council to vote down the contract next week and send the city and union back to the negotiating table (Helle insists they'd just end up back in court). But it's not exactly surprising Castro is now offering his support (as the Express-News' Gilbert Garcia wrote earlier this week, his brother, Julián, has been quietly calling council members to register his concern). Last year, Castro pushed for an extra $8 million of federal funding for police body cameras. He also says he helped SAPD secure a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for body cams. 

In his statement Thursday, Castro said:
"We are living in a time when technology has revealed the tensions and conflicts between police and citizens. We cannot turn away or pretend that it doesn't happen in San Antonio. Far too many citizens have been needlessly shot, injured or otherwise had their rights violated by officers performing below the standards of conduct expected of them. ... Good police officers represent the very best of our society. They should not have to compete for jobs, awards and promotions with bad officers. The bad ones should be weeded out rather than have their abuses swept under the rug."


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