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A park police officer shows off his patrol vehicle to visitors.
San Antonio's airport and park police last week sued the city to win the same pay and benefits as San Antonio Police Department officers. The move sets off what at least one legal expert describes as an uncommon dispute.
"This is an unusual setup," said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and longtime scholar of policing issues. "Usually, when you see these kind of discrepancies, it's between different municipalities that make up a larger community."
It's far more frequent to see concern over pay gaps between big-city police forces and those of surrounding suburbs, according to Harris, than between different policing units within the same city.
In San Antonio's case, the discrepancy comes because airport and park police — while overseen by SAPD Chief William McManus — aren't covered under the police union's collective bargaining agreement.
The San Antonio Park Police Officers Association's deal is hashed out via a "meet and confer" process that's typically less adversarial than collective bargaining. Training and responsibilities for park and airport police are also different from those of SAPD.
Average annual salary for a five-year park or airport officer is $50,527, the Express-News reports
, citing SAPD data. Meanwhile, a five-year SAPD officer makes $67,000 under the police union's current contract.
The park police's union sued the city on September 3 in state district court. Its current contract expires October 1.
Absent findings of illegal activity or drastic action such as a walkout by airport and park police, Harris said the city is unlikely to bring the lower-paid officers up to parity. That's especially true if the city fears taxpayer pushback.
"I don't think public officials will feel much pressure to change course," Harris said.
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