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Police, Public Meet In Last Of Three Listening Sessions And Discuss Accountability

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San Antonio Police Department

Calls for police reform continued Saturday as the San Antonio City Council’s Public Safety Committee held its final community listening session.

About two dozen people submitted comments in a virtual meeting.

They included continued calls for removing police investigation waiting periods and no option for paid administrative leave when the actions of a police officer are under investigation.

San Antonio resident Christopher Cunningham told the committee a provision in the police contract that gives officers advance notice of an investigation needs to be removed.

“This subsection guarantees officers a 48 hour waiting period before being asked questions in a misconduct investigation," he said. "This is a privilege that is not guaranteed to any other San Antonio citizen no matter how physically or legally dangerous their profession is.”

San Antonio resident Debbie Bush told the committee she doesn’t believe officers who are under investigation should be on paid administrative leave or have their jobs reinstated after termination.

“I don’t believe that they should get jobs back if they’ve committed major crimes within the community as far as beatings, killings and murder or trying to... feed a homeless person some feces," she said. "They should not even be considered of getting their jobs back.”

Bush was referring to former SAPD officer Matthew Luckhurst, who was terminated by the chief in two separate instances for pranks involving feces. In one incident, Luckhurst got his job back through appeal. After a second incident, he was terminated, and on Friday, June 19, an arbitrator upheld the termination.

Many community members like Joanna Pena with the Texas Organizing Project called for the defunding of SAPD. She said some of the money could be used elsewhere.

“Many people continue to justify funding the police by claiming the police uphold public safety," she said. "In reality, public safety means something completely different. Mainly free health care for all, food security, safety for people experiencing violence or homelessness.”

SAPD’s budget is about $480 million.

This was last of three listening sessions. The other two were on Monday and Thursday.

The first, on Monday, June 15, also saw attacks on the police department's 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.

The second session, on Thursday, June 18, focused in part on reforms to the kind of person who is allowed to wear an SAPD uniform. Critics, led by activist Ananda Thomas, also referenced the Luckhurst case.

“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.”

Also on Thursday night, Jourdyn Parks disagreed with SAPD's metrics, including more time spent training officers, used to measure its own improvement. She was from the newly formed activist group the Reliable Revolutionaries.

“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."

Amidst the criticism at the sessions, a few citizens took a moment to thank the police force. On Thursday, one man pointed out that police officers risk their lives every day to keep the community safe.

Jolene Almendarez contributed to this report.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@tpr.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.