scott davidson via flickr creative commons
On Monday, San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña continued with his increasingly public opposition to a local police union contract just days before council is set to vote on the matter.
In a press conference at City Hall, Saldaña was flanked by Congressman Joaquin Castro and some former council members turned community activists in calling for council to vote down a new contract that doesn't fix police disciplinary procedures that many say cover up officer misconduct.
"We know that we have an incomplete contract," Saldaña said. "The mayor has admitted so on the record that this is something that needs to be changed, and we shouldn’t punt it to a future council.”
Earlier this summer, after years of fighting in court over an evergreen clause in the police union contract that city officials called unconstitutional, Mayor Ivy Taylor struck an agreement with the union 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 police reforms that people like Saldaña say they'd asked the city to push for.
Saldaña says his opposition to the contract is rooted in 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. In some instances, Saldaña says, past misconduct would essentially be hidden from arbitrators hearing a case. Critics have said the policy amounts to government sanctioned falsification of records.
For his part, Castro cited what he called several "troubling experiences" San Antonians have had with police in recent years, conflicts that have only become more apparent with the ubiquity of social media and cell phone video. "Let’s be honest," Castro said. "Over the years, officers have been involved in many things that have not made the city proud, everything from domestic violence, sexual assault, drug-running and many offenses.”
Saldaña urged council members to vote down the contract and send it back to negotiations over the disciplinary language — something that San Antonio police union president Mike Helle has already told us would be a non-starter.
(On Monday, he told the Express-News
: “I’m not going back to rework that and go back into that snake pit again.”) In a prepared statement Monday, Mayor Taylor reiterated her support for the contract, saying she's “proud to have negotiated an agreement that keeps San Antonio on a secure fiscal path, protects taxpayers and fairly compensates our men and women in blue.”
Council is set to vote on the contract Thursday.
You can see the full press conference here: