A new contract with the police union is cooking and local human rights activists are steaming over failures to reform the department's Internal Affairs.
Shootings of unarmed citizens were in the headlines, use of force by San Antonio police had just jumped 20 percent in 2007, and behind the scenes almost equally unappetizing stories of rampant anal probing on roadsides and at service stations were buzzing.
SAPD Chief Bill McManus called in the D.C.-based police-consulting group, Police Executive Research Forum, to review and advise the department on use-of-force measures. When those 141 recommended changes were released last summer, McManus quickly accepted most of them.
However, measures to reform Internal Affairs were handed over to a special task force to hash out over months of meetings. Thanks to the resistance of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, many of the most vital reforms didn't make the cut, said Mario Salas, chairman of the San Antonio Coalition on Civil and Human Rights and task force member.
“This police union is out of control,” he said this week. “There's not accountability, as far as that's concerned, and there's no transparency.”
Antonio Diaz, of the Texas Indigenous Council, has been agitating for reform. He told the Current this week that he took his concerns to Assistant City Manager Eric Walsh, who is leading contract negotiations with the union. While Walsh failed to return a Monday call from the Current and the city's communication office still hasn't gotten back with us, Diaz said in email that police aggression in the city is “getting worse.”
“As an Activist I get complaints from people that are afraid to go before Internal Affairs because of the biased way that it is setup. The Civilian Review Board is a joke,” Diaz said.
So the pressure is on for Walsh and crew. “They have to do their damndest to get those things out of the contract,” Salas said
As it stands now, those who want to file complaints against officers are not allowed to bring friends, family, or attorneys with them to make their statement. They are not allowed to write out their statement in their own words; an officer records the complaint and writes the report, which then off-limits to the complainant and the public. As an added level of intimidation, the complaint form itself threatens anyone found reporting untruths with aggravated perjury, a third-degree felony.
Salas worked to get that perjury threat removed from the paperwork, as PERF recommended, but said he was blocked by the union. He also fought to have the reports releasable â?? even with the provision the officer's name be blacked out. “You're able to hide inappropriate and bad activity by not giving the person a copy of the report,” Salas complained. “If that's not fascist-like, I don't know what is.”
But the union wasn't entertaining any compromises.
While we're waiting for a callback from SAPD, another MIA in the IA debate is union President Michael Helle. We left him a message first thing this morning, but, a yet, we haven't had the pleasure.