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San Antonio Police Listens To Community's Concerns About Training, Accountability And Character

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Jolene Almendarez | Texas Public Radio
Police Chief William McManus heard input from more than two dozen members of the public during a Public Safety Committee listening session.

More than two dozen people attended a listening session Thursday evening to tell local officials and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus what specific police reforms they’re calling for.

The conversation was the second of three hosted by the city’s Public Safety Committee and was prompted by recent intense scrutiny of policing following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis three weeks ago.

Police officials said they do community outreach. They’ve seen some improvements in diversity among recruits. And they require double the training the state mandates for their officers.

But Jourdyn Parks disagreed with those metrics to measure improvement. She was from the newly formed activist group the Reliable Revolutionaries. She doesn’t think improved training is sufficient to solving the fundamental problem.

“When it comes to the hours of training, no matter how much training you take you cannot teach someone to not be racist -- racism is not logical," she said.

"I cannot take off Black skin," she added. "But you can take off your uniform, so if you are that afraid of my Black skin, if you are that threatened by my Black skin, then you should not be an officer. You should not have signed up to protect a community that you are afraid of."

Ananda Tomas called for city council members to stand with the community when it comes to police reforms.

“I also want to talk about Chapter 143," she said. "This Texas local government code is what is allowing corrupt killer cops to be hired back. We have officers with multiple civil lawsuits against them being hired back even if the chief of police doesn’t approve it. We have officers feeding feces sandwiches to homeless men getting hired back. We have officers that have been charged with tampering with evidence getting hired back. And I don’t understand how none of you have spoken about Chapter 143 and the need to repeal this corrupt local government code. We need you.”

Oji Martin is a local activist who recently founded an organization called FIX SAPD, which is trying to get enough signatures to repeal local codes that offer unique protections to San Antonio police officers. She questioned whether city council members realistically could stand with community members.

"You are not able to fulfill these initiatives and you know it," she alleged. "You're sitting there nodding your heads taking these notes like you're really going to do something with them, knowing you are scared of the San Antonio Police Association. You are deathly afraid of them. Tell them why -- tell them about Chapter 143 and 174 of the state local code. Tell them that these are the laws that tie your hands, that have tied council’s hands for decades."

City council members, who spoke before public comment, did not directly address Chapter 143 but they did focus on the department’s hiring techniques, community outreach, and diversity within the police department.

After the listening session ended, Police Chief William McManus spoke with some of the public one-on-one for about 15 minutes.

Among the people he spoke with was Parks. They discussed the psychological exam new recruits must pass to become officers. The exam lasts about 4-5 hours and covers a lot of ground. At least one question addresses racism directly, but city council members and activists said they’d like to see more questions exploring a potential officer’s racial biases.

"So they asked about the psychological testing, and it has been determined that that is actually well within your wheelhouse," Parks said. "What do you plan on doing about the psychological testing and requirements for officers?"

McManus responded, "I actually received a text from a captain who’s over there. It says here are the polygraph questions given to police applicants. It asks a question about racism but we can add more or refine it if need be. I will commit to you that we will look at it, and if there's more that we can add, we will."

Thursday night's listening session was the second of three this week. The first, on Monday, June 15, saw attacks on the police department's $480 million budget. Critics called it overinflated.

Others demanded the city make the budget easily available to public scrutiny. About 80 percent of the police department's budget is restricted because of requirements outlined in the city’s contract with the police union.

Some speakers on Monday expressed concerns about the militarization of the police force, particularly arming officers with tear gas and rubber bullets.

A final virtual listening session is scheduled Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Viewers may watch it on the city's Facebook page.

Joey Palacios contributed to this report.
Jolene Almendarez can be reached at JoleneAlmendarez@gmail.com and on Twitter at @jalmendarez57.