SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – Amid nationwide calls for police reform and an upcoming election that could strip the San Antonio Police Officers Association of its collective bargaining rights, city and union negotiators got together Friday morning to start working on a new contact agreement.
The city laid out the ground rules for negotiations and outlined its priorities. Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez made it clear that discipline is at the top of the list.
“The community demands that we make changes during these negotiations and we hope that the association also is willing to make those adjustments,” said Villagomez.
The 180-day rule is sure to be a sticking point. The current contract allows the chief to discipline an officer up to 180 days from the date of the violation, whether the chief knew about the misconduct or not. The city wants to make sure that the 180-day rule applies to the date the chief knew or should have known about the incident.
The union’s chief negotiator argued that the 180-day rule is meant to protect officers from vengeful bosses who could bring up old violations.
“If the department is after you, they can then start fishing for violations of minor things that happened 2 or 3 years ago,” said RonDeLord.
Arbitration is another point of contention. Under the current contract, a third-party arbitrator or Civil Service Commission can overturn disciplinary decisions if they believe the chief was unfair.
The city pointed out a high-profile case involving an officer who tried to feed a homeless man a sandwich with dog feces.
Officer Matthew Luckhurst was fired, but an arbitrator overturned the termination because Luckhurst wasn’t punished within 180 days of the alleged incident. He was later fired for other reasons.
The city also wants all past conduct to be considered when punishing officers. The current contract does not allow for performance evaluations to be considered in the promotions process, and the city wants to change that.
“The majority of our police officers act in good conduct and they provide services to our community with compassion and integrity,” said Villagomez. “However, there are a few officers that violate those policies and procedures and we want to hold them accountable, and we want the chief and the city manager to have the ultimate say when it comes to disciplinary action.”
Both sides have sixty days to hammer out a new contract under pressure and public scrutiny as San Antonio voters prepare to head to the polls in May to decide whether to repeal collective bargaining rights for police.