No day in the park

When the San Antonio Police Department announced in May that the city’s park and airport police would merge with the SAPD, the rationale seemed to be that it would create a more efficient, uniformly trained force.

The response to the initiative, however, was outrage from both park-police officers and many community activists. Even with a July agreement, hammered out between the City, park-police representatives, and Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), resentment and suspicions linger among park-police advocates. The agreement, hailed by its supporters as a prudent compromise, would theoretically maintain the independence of park and airport police, and allow them to keep their own unions, while placing them under the authority of Police Chief William McManus.

“I think it’s a win-win situation for the city, and it’s good for both the airport and the park guys,” said Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association. “Those guys will keep their jobs, and that was the number-one priority for them. You have guys who were pretty close to retirement, and they don’t have to worry about whether they’ll reach retirement age, and it’s good for the city, because they can say they have a unified command, with the chief in control of both the parks and airport. I think that’s what `City Manager` Sheryl Sculley was looking for.”

Many park-police officers and community activists see no reassurance in the compromise plan. They view the move as a shell game, in which the City wins park-police approval with a non-binding set of promises, and fires park-police officers after the controversy has blown over.

“The contract in no way guarantees their jobs. It’s a rip-off. It’s being fast-tracked like everything else the City’s been doing, and I’m really worried we’re going to lose our park police,” said Hector Cardenas, president of Friends of San Pedro Springs Park, and a retired San Antonio firefighter.

A quick scan of the meet-and-confer agreement between the City and the Parks Police Officers Association finds a host of rights that the park-police officers are giving up, but little that they’ve gained. The City agrees to consult with the park-police association if SAPD transfers any park-police officers to “the supervision, span of control and/or administration by the Chief of Police.” But being consulted about a decision is not the same thing as having the power to change that decision.

The agreement preempts any claims by park-police officers to coverage under the SAPD’s collective-bargaining agreement, even if park-police officers are placed under the supervision or administration of the chief of police. Most crucially for critics of the deal, park-police officers have relinquished coverage under Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code. This law stipulates that when a city’s population reaches 1.5 million, as San Antonio is widely expected to do for the 2010 census, all of its peace officers must be paid on the same scale. Considering that first-year park-police officers are currently making $13,000 a year less than first-year SAPD patrolmen, the City could be looking at a considerable expense if it’s required to get park-police salaries up to SAPD standards.

Opponents of the agreement believe that concerns about Chapter 143 prompted McManus to initially propose replacing park-police officers with “park service agents,” recreational employees with no law-enforcement training, whose only authority would be to call the police if trouble starts. Because they would not be certified peace officers, these park-service agents would not be subject to Chapter 143’s salary stipulations.

“The 1.5 million coming up in 2010 is probably the crux of this whole issue,” Cardenas says.

It’s an opinion shared by Tommy Calvert, who was hired by the San Antonio Parks Police Officers Association to represent them in negotations with the City, and resigned that position in frustration on Monday, August 11. Calvert says he was shut out of the negotiation process by SAPPOA’s leadership and contends that they agreed to a bad deal. He cites the non-binding nature of the agreement’s stipulations, with its frequent use of the word “if.”

“Every document `the City` has indicates they want to phase out that department,” Calvert says. “McManus’s rationale for this is that it will bring ‘standardization of policing.’ Where’s the public outcry for this? There is none.”

Calvert says he recently gave a copy of the agreement to an independent labor lawyer and the lawyer “laughed at it,” because he believed it did not guarantee the SAPPOA that they’ll be able to continue patrolling the parks, be integrated into the SAPD, get the 34 additional park officers the City verbally promised the department, or even keep their jobs.

One puzzling component of this issue for park-police advocates is their sense that the City might be on the verge of fixing a system that wasn’t broken. While the cash-strapped SAPD deals with complaints about its use-of-force practices and community-outreach deficiencies, the San Antonio Park Police have been praised as a national policing model by the Trust for Public Land, a national land-conservation organization.

“The feedback from the community is that they didn’t want park police to go under SAPD because of the culture of SAPD,” Calvert says. “This is an agency that’s just been hit with 141 recommendations on how to improve it.”

Another compelling argument against bringing the park police under McManus’s authority is that consolidations of park and metro police forces in cities such as Houston and Phoenix have aroused complaints that law-enforcement services have been diminished.

MGT of America recently conducted a study on police consolidation for the City of Austin and determined that the process “would lead to higher costs while creating organizational and human-resource challenges.”

Nashville underwent a complete consolidation in early 2007, and its park officers now report to both the director of parks and the city’s police chief. “This is a trend that seems to be happening,” says Houston Taylor, a sergeant for the Nashville park police. “There’s more crime and there’s a desire for the policies and procedures to be the same as the city police.”

An area for concern for Nashville park police, as it likely would be for SA’s park officers, is the disparity in pay for the two departments.

“I’m a sergeant and I have to do the same as a city police sergeant here does, and I make 26.75-percent less than what they do,” Taylor says. “And their biggest reason for that is that we didn’t go through the same academy they did. But they’re ironing out all those issues.”

All new Nashville park-police officers must be prepared to work the streets, meaning that many of them must go through a 22-week metro-police training academy before they start their jobs.

Some local park-police officers worry that McManus will start pulling individual officers out of the parks and onto the streets to cover the SAPD’s manpower shortfall, or use the new agreement as an excuse to fire park-police officers for not having sufficient metro-police training.

Cardenas points out that the demands of park policing and working the streets are so different that the skills are not readily transferable. “`The park police` are out there to look out for us, and prevent things from getting out of hand, not to respond to things after they happen.”

Another red flag for some park-police officers is that CLEAT played a crucial role in the agreement negotiations. Since metro-police departments handily outnumber park-police departments, and since their salary base is considerably higher, they pay CLEAT much bigger dues. In the minds of some park officers, that can lead to an unfair bias in favor of metro police.

CLEAT representatives did not respond to the Current’s interview requests. McManus initially agreed to talk about the new agreement, but canceled the interview.

Helle argues that the agreement resolves the concerns of park police, and lends the SAPD a greater degree of flexibility.

“A lot of those guys have been working as airport guys or park officers for many years and they want to continue with that,” he said. “They want to be park-police guys, they really don’t want to be SAPD. So this allows them to keep their identities, still perform the jobs that they’re doing, and offers the city the opportunity to know that there’s some stability in those positions.”

The meet-and-confer agreement is tentative and at press time the park and airport police were still in the process of voting on the deal. City Council will be briefed on the issue at its B-session meeting on Wednesday, August 13.

Calvert expresses little optimism that the City will live up to its verbal commitments. “I hope that the legal review of this document is wrong and the City will do the right thing,” he says. “But as it’s written, it takes all the protections away from the officers. If the officers are not informed about this, then the process has been corrupt, and I think it has been.”









Effective upon execution of this Addendum and Amendment to the Meet and Confer Agreement between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Park Police Officers Association, the following shall be added:


Transfer of Officers to Supervision, Span of Control and/or Administration by the Chief of Police of the San Antonio Police Department


Consultation with the Association Prior to Implementation.


If the City transfers officers in the bargaining unit to the supervision, span of control and/or administration by the Chief of Police of the San Antonio Police Department, the Chief of Police shall meet, discuss and solicit input from the Association. The Association shall be provided a copy of all written recommendations (other than attorney – client communications) in regards to any such transfer on or before such public presentation to the City Manager.


Pre-emption of Coverage Under Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code.


The Association agrees that if officers are transferred to the supervision, span of control and/or administration by the Chief of Police of the San Antonio Police Department or his designee, this Addendum pre-empts Chapter 143, Texas Local Government Code, and the Association waives all claims to coverage by Chapter 143.


Pre-emption of Coverage Under Collective Bargaining Agreements.


The Association agrees that if officers are transferred to the supervision, span of  control and/or administration by the Chief of Police of the San Antonio Police Department or his designee, this Addendum pre-empts any claims that such officers are covered by any collective bargaining agreement between the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Police Officers Association, or that the officers have any claims to wage and benefit equity except as provided for in the Meet and Confer Agreement (“Agreement”).  The Association agrees to support and assist the City in obtaining contractual modification of the SAPOA agreement to ratify and confirm the provisions herein.


Preservation of Existing Ranks and Classifications for Current Employees.


The City agrees that if current employees who are certified peace officers are transferred to the supervision, span of control and/or administration by the Chief of Police of the San Antonio Police Department or his designee, such individual employee officers will retain their rank and classification except as provided for pursuant to city civil service rules and regulations or this Agreement. The City has agreed that such officers shall continue to perform dedicated law enforcement duties as directed by the Chief of Police of the San Antonio Police Department in the City parks or the City airports. The City and the Chief of Police retain the prerogative and legal authority to hire and utilize certified peace officers who are transferred to the supervision, span of control and/or administration by the Chief of Police of the San Antonio Police Department or SAPD officers, or both in connection with law enforcement and public safety in San Antonio City parks and airports. 


Pay and Benefits.


Pay and benefits for park and airport officers covered by this Addendum shall continue to be controlled by the existing Meet and Confer Agreement, which shall be negotiated from time to time with the San Antonio Park Police Officer’s Association.


Existing Positions and Attrition.


Positions actually filled as of the date of transfer to the supervision, span of control, or administration by the Chief of the SAPD, will not be reduced except by attrition, and not by the elimination of authorized positions which are actually filled by existing employees at the time.




Section 2.1, Effective Date and Term of this Agreement, is amended to read as follows:


This amendment to this Agreement and the above addendum shall take effect on (1) the date on which it is ratified by the Association by conducting a secret ballot election at which the majority of the police officers voting who are covered by the Agreement vote in favor of ratifying the amendment to this Agreement and the above addendum to this Agreement, or (2) the effective date of the ordinance approving this amendment to this Agreement and addendum to the Agreement by majority vote of the City Council of the City, whichever is later, and the duration of the Agreement, Article 2.1, shall be amended to remain in effect until September 30, 2013. Articles IV and IX of the Agreement take effect on October 1, 2008. The provisions of this amendment to this Agreement and the above addendum to this Agreement are effective only during the term of this Agreement and dissolve upon its expiration.





____________________________________            ____________________________________

(Signature)                                                                   (Signature)


Printed                                                                        Printed

Name:  ______________________________            Name: ______________________________


Title:   ______________________________            Title:   ______________________________


Date:   ______________________________            Date:   ______________________________



Approved as to Form:





City Attorney






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