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San Antonio’s police union and city agree to tentative contract with changes to officer discipline

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez and the police union's parliamentarian Christopher Lutton have been leading the negotiations for both sides since last year.

After a year of negotiations, the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Police Officers Association have reached a tentative agreement on a union contract. Although negotiations have finished, the city council and union membership will have to vote before its final.

The tentative contract would go from 2022 until the end of September 2026. It addresses some discipline issues regarding the firing of officers who are accused of wrongdoing. It also provides a pay increase to officers during the nearly four year period of the contract.

San Antonio’s City Manager Erik Walsh said the contract compensates the city’s police officers while offering a disciplinary process that’s fair.

“I want to thank the San Antonio Police Officers Association for their good faith negotiations. I hope this sets a new standard of what is possible when the City and the Union work together towards a greater goal,” Walsh said. “Both parties came to the table with priorities and a genuine willingness to negotiate, and I believe both parties achieved what they set out to accomplish.”

It’s the first contract to come after public calls for police reform stemming from the George Floyd Protests and a 2021 ballot proposition to remove the union’s collective bargaining process almost entirely. That proposition, however,failed by a narrow margin.

One major change is the option for the city to take the firing of a police officer to court. Currently a third party arbitrator can overturn the police chief’s decision if the officer is fired for misconduct.

San Antonio’s Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez served as the city’s chief negotiator. She said a third party arbitrator can still overturn the police chief’s firing decision, but there’s now a final step where an officer can stay terminated if a judge says so.

“If the police chief shows that that employee is a detriment to the department or… does not achieve community expectations, then the arbitrator should not be able to reinstate that officer, in the event the arbitrator chooses to do so then the city has the opportunity to appeal that to a District Court,” she said.

Under the proposed contract, the chief can issue discipline up to 180 days after learning about the infraction, as long as that infraction isn’t more than two years old. However, there’s no limit on the amount of time disciplinary action could be levied if that incident would be considered a crime like a class A or B misdemeanor or felony. Currently, the limit is 180 days from when the infraction occurred.

Some of the changes to the disciplinary process proposed in the contract.
City of San Antonio / San Antonio Police Officers Association
Some of the changes to the disciplinary process proposed in the contract.

Another change is the reduction of time when an officer is notified they need to appear for an investigative interview with internal affairs - it’s gone down from 48 to 24 hours.

Also new, there’s no limit on how far back previous discipline can be considered when the chief is deciding - or an arbitrator is reviewing - a punishment. The current limit is only the past two years of discipline can be included in a review.

Christopher Lutton, the chairman of the union’s police union’s collective bargaining committee said the tentative contract meets the needs of both parties.

“We believe that the process has stayed true to give the employee a chance to cure their side of the story and to also try to rebut anything there so I believe it still gives the employee a recourse if they believe that something has been done wrongly,” he said.

San Antonio police officers would receive a 15 percent pay increase over the next four years - an average of about 3.5% per year - and a 2% lump sum payment paid when the contract is final.

“Our members were looking for financial increases and I believe we got that and I believe at the same time we also addressed some of the concerns of the city,” Lutton said.

Danny Diaz, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, said the city and union made consistent movement towards an agreement that maintains healthcare benefits, increases wages, and provides updates to police accountability practices

“In any negotiation there are always challenging moments, but both sides consistently worked towards our shared goals of providing a contract that protects police officers, while delivering on community concerns about the future of law enforcement and police accountability in San Antonio,” he said. “We believe we have met our shared goals and are delivering the contract to our membership for input and review.”

Ananda Thomas is executive director of ACT 4 SA, a local organization that calls for police reform and accountability and supported last year’s proposition to remove collective bargaining. Shesaid while improvements have been made, ‘we cannot be happy with mediocre reform.’

“With negotiations happening every 5 years, and the process taking anywhere from 1-3 years, we can only get these basic piecemeal reforms every 6-9 years, meaning we can only win reforms once a decade,” she said. “Even now, if this contract is ratified, we cannot reform our civilian review board, known as the CCARB, until 2026 at the earliest. Not only was the CCARB on the city’s priority list at one point in 2020, but community activists were asking for this to be included in negotiations throughout 2021 and even today,”

The union’s current contract expired at the end of September. Negotiations on this contract took a considerable amount of time less than the previous negotiations that began in 2014 and ended in 2016. Those negotiations mainly centered on healthcare costs and disagreements over an evergreen clause that ended up in court with the city losing that case.

The proposed contract now has to be approved by the union membership and then city council, a process that could take a couple of months.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules