Police Union's Proposed Contract Looks To Whitewash Officers' Disciplinary Records

from the revisionist-history dept

Touched on briefly during our rundown of police unions demanding better pay for better behavior and accountability was the San Antonio Police Officers Association's (SAPOA) demand that the city should be willing to raise wages if it really expected its officers to perform their duties without veering into abuse or misconduct.

Part of what's keeping a deal from being struck between the city and the union is the amount of money on the table. This gives the union the appearance of holding the city's safety hostage until its demands are met. That may not be an entirely fair characterization (there's some "hostage-taking" on the other side as well), but there's something far more worrying in the proposed contract that's keeping this from being resolved.

The San Antonio police union wants changes to disciplinary procedures that would effectively whitewash past misconduct by officers. Michael Barajas, writing for the San Antonio Current, takes a close look at the controversial clause, and how it's likely to allow bad officers to not only stay employed longer, but possibly rise through the ranks as well.

At issue is the deal SAPOA and Mayor Ivy Taylor’s office negotiated this past summer to put an end to years of litigation over an evergreen clause in the union’s previous contract, which the city in court had argued was unconstitutional. Only recently, however, has police reform come to dominate discussions around the deal. As the Express-News first reported, Saldaña explained in an email to Taylor’s office last month why he wouldn’t vote on a negotiated contract that contained disciplinary procedures he called unacceptable.

[...]

Saldaña’s opposition to the agreement is rooted in disciplinary procedures outlined in Article 28 of the contract, which is set to go before council for approval next week. Under those rules, department officials and arbitrators hearing a case of officer misconduct won’t always get to consider an officer’s full disciplinary history when deciding what punishment to give. As it currently stands, if 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. Local activists calling for police reform say the policy amounts to government-sanctioned falsification of records.

The passage of time may alter perceptions, but it shouldn't be allowed to alter facts. That's what the union's proposal would do: rewrite disciplinary records after the fact. There will be no such thing as a "permanent record" for the city's officers. With enough years on the force, every disciplined officer will morph into someone better-behaved than they actually are.

Of course, union president Mike Helle thinks this is a perfectly acceptable way to handle misconduct issues. He claims this clause levels the disciplinary playing field. He wonders why a 10-year officer with a few minor infractions should be treated more harshly than a rookie with no prior incidents when punished for identical acts of misconduct.

It should go without saying (but apparently Helle actually needs to hear it) that those with more seniority should be screwing up less and should receive harsher punishments than those without as much experience. It's not as though the current disciplinary process prevents supervisors from considering multiple factors and exercising personal discretion when handing down punishments. Helle just wants to ensure that the longer someone's on the force, the more likely they are to escape severe punishment.

In practice, the union's suggested change would play out like this:

As Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff wrote last week, Saldaña has seized on the case of one former SAPD officer convicted of raping a teenager on duty to highlight the disciplinary policy’s troubling implications. More than two years before Jackie Neal pleaded no contest to “improper sexual activity with a person in custody,” he was reprimanded for having sex with an 18-year-old high school student he was tasked with supervising in the department’s youth police explorer program. For that, he received a three-day suspension—which, if you follow the department’s disciplinary policies, would have been changed to a written reprimand by the time he was accused of pulling someone identified only as Jane Doe in court records over on the south side, handcuffing her and raping her in the back of his police SUV.

The officer ended up being convicted and having to surrender his peace officer's license. But what about those whose misconduct investigations are handled completely internally? If the union's plan was in place, the officer's file would have shown nothing more than a written reprimand -- hardly indicative of past issues with sexual misconduct.

Helle calls the councilman's opposition to the whitewashing clause the "tantrum" of a "spoiled child." But he glosses over the fact that the union is still threatening to hold its breath until it gets its way. Helle claims he can't change the clause without undoing current negotiations and possibly ending up in court. That seems unlikely to be the only outcome of removing the stipulation. Occam's Razor (and columnist Michael Barajas) says the union boss just doesn't want to remove the clause as it gives the union much more leverage when representing officers during disciplinary hearings.

What it doesn't do, however, is any favors for the public, which will be asked to pay the salaries of bad officers and underwrite the retconning of their permanent records.

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Filed Under: accountability, police, police unions, records, transparency


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  1. icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 7 Sep 2016 @ 3:39pm

    First off this is starting to get to the point of ridiculous the protections Law Enforcement seems to think they deserve unequivocally and there should be no questions asked.

    The fact that Law Enforcement already has several laws and statues that can be used criminally not to mention the immunity protections that are in place (yet can be disqualified by a court depending on the circumstances ) has been sufficient for years, that was until video equipment in surveillance cameras, body cams and dash cams, mobile phones, hand held video cameras, Go Pro type units etc have brought the misdeeds by police to the forefront and out to the public.

    Law Enforcement personnel's word for what they say transpired in an event carries a lot of weight with the courts and within an investigation and if it is an accused persons word or a citizens word of their view of what transpired in an Law Enforcement event where wrong doing is alleged, whose word usually gets taken as gospel.... Law Enforcement!

    If you some person accused of a crime and you believe your innocent and protest that to the law Enforcement agency and police you are dealing with, your word means squat! It will be the Officers word against yours, and their word is king.

    It is up to the citizen to prove their innocent, the premise of your innocent until proven guilty dies a painful death long ago. Now it is more a case of your guilty unless you can prove your innocent.

    Even though the courts say you can video tape Law Enforcement in their duties in a public area as long as you are not impeding them and are doing so safely, Law Enforcement knows that is the law but yet chooses to try intimidation and/or threats of arrest on what ever charge they seem to think fits the narrative to violate your rights.

    How many times have stories come out in the last dozen years questioning Law Enforcement's version of events of an incident? There has been quite a few and this trend has been on the increase due to the public taking a proactive stance to pull out and video something they see involving the Police. Now think about how many interactions the police have with the public in a day, in just one state, and then think about it across the U.S., I doubt the police are called on the carpet about 1% of out of all the interactions they have in a day across a city or a state or even the country.

    The tables have always been tilted in Law Enforcement favour when dealing with public, Law Enforcement has a wide range of protections for it's members in the criminal code and in state law. The deck has always been stacked in Law Enforcement favor and the public has always bore the brunt of that when complaining about a violation of their rights or being falsely accused of a crime.

    If it wasn't for technological advances with various video capabilities the field would still be tilted to Law Enforcement advantage as it is right now. The courts take Law Enforcemnts word over yours most of the time and when the police are investigating themselves, the tables are still tilted the officers way.

    Do Law Enforcement officials get wrongly accused of things, sure they do. DO they take some serious shit out there, yes they do. Do they have to go into the path of danger, yes they do. I am no law enforcement hater, but I do believe that just because you have a gun and a badge does not make you immune from breaking the law nor immune form punishment for it.

    Law Enforcement associations are pushing for more and more "protections" from the public in the course of their duties, as with people video taping them and the ability to arrest those doing so. There are bills before several state assemblies being pushed by Law Enforcement association lobbyists seeking to get that type of legislation passed.

    Some Law Enforcement agencies refuse to release details on an indecent where an officer has been punished and discipline has been handed down and this includes what the punishment was and the officers name and when this punishment took place. Texas is one state that is notorious for this and even though FOIA requests have been filed those requests are usually turned down,

    Law Enforcement unions and associations wield a lot of power and they use that power to protect their members good and bad. The fact that more and more Law Enforcement associations/ Unions are trying to shield their members disciplinary records fro seeing the light of day and pushing to expunge those records is alarming in my mind.

    Bad enough that some officers who are accused of a serious crime can still be paid for months and years till a matter reaches a conclusion is stunning enough. Honestly what is next. A weeks vacation in Hawaii for every citizens right that violated, a trip to Disneyland for every wrongful conviction.

    Law Enforcement officers are entitled to their benefits, but when it comes to the disciplinary end of the scale and the protections they already have, the field is getting way to tilted in Law Enforcement favor and the public is still up against it.

    The public needs to have confidence in the process that when Police/Law Enforcement do wrong they will be held to the same standards that a citizen would be, and this is far from the case and it is why the public is more and more aware of the encounters with Law Enforcement and why people believe there is way too much power in the hands of Law Enforcement when it comes to policing their own and why the public is losing confidence in that process and that's because it has and is still abused and broken

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