Rule used in fecal sandwich case at the center of police contract talks

Negotiators with the city of San Antonio and the police union on Tuesday opposed one of the most notorious flaws in the police disciplinary process.

A clause in the city’s current contract with the San Antonio Police Officers Association imposes a statute of limitations on behavior violations, meaning officers cannot be punished 180 days after the incident.

The so-called “180 day rule” is what Constable Matthew Luckhurst cited to avoid being fired after giving a fecal sandwich to a homeless person in 2016. In the end, he did. been dismissed for another matter also involving feces.

Under the wording proposed by the city, the 180-day rule would have different guidelines for minor and major faults. The 180-day statute of limitations after the incident would still apply to minor misconduct or slight deviations from police service policies, procedures, responsibilities and expectations. But a serious misconduct (major deviations) would use a discovery rule, which means the chief has 180 days to punish an officer once the department (the chief, a captain or the professional standards section) finds out about the violation.

The city and the union agreed to this structure, but the definition of major misconduct was the main point of contention for both sides. The union does not want the definition to be so broad that officers could be held accountable for what could constitute a minor infraction. The city doesn’t want the gross negligence standard to be so high that the discovery rule can’t be used.

The city’s proposal includes a list of offenses as examples of what would reach the ‘significant deviation level such as excessive / unnecessary use of force, discrimination, harassment involving serious conduct offense , abuse of official position, inappropriate / unauthorized use of City property, failure to timely report serious misconduct of which the officer was aware and use of intoxicants or unauthorized drugs during the service.

The union argued that these examples should not automatically be considered serious misconduct – it should be based on the behavior of the individual agent.

“You can face discrimination which is not serious misconduct,” Ron DeLord, counsel for the union, said at the meeting. “Improper [use of a] pronoun – it could be any small thing.

The union is concerned that a police chief may abuse the extended time frame for punishment that a gross misconduct entails and go rummage through an officer’s past for personal or political reasons, the sergeant said. Chris Lutton, the union’s chief negotiator, told reporters after the meeting.

“For us, discrimination is a big gap,” said Deputy City Manager Maria Villagómez, the city’s chief negotiator. “If someone complains of discrimination, it does not automatically mean that [the officer is] going to be disciplined. … We have the due process by which an investigation must take place [and] the facts must corroborate whatever the allegation.

A serious breach of misconduct, if proven, “does not automatically mean termination,” Villagómez said. They could be suspended for as little as a day.

DeLord suggested removing the list of instances of major misconduct altogether.

The city wants to keep it in order to give an adjudicator, a third party who hears appeals for misconduct cases, as much clarity as possible on what constitutes serious misconduct, Villagómez said.

“[This list] this is clear from the point of view of the employees, from the point of view of the public and also of the arbitrator, ”she said.

Apparently frustrated with the back and forth during the meeting, DeLord concluded the conversation on the 180 Day Rule.

“We are where we are,” he said.

Both parties agree, however, that giving someone a fecal sandwich would be considered serious misconduct.

“I think we all agree that there are certain behaviors that should not be adopted by the police in San Antonio,” he said.

Although he won his case by arbitration, Luckhurst was not referred to police as he had yet another conduct violation under consideration. An independent adjudicator found his dismissal justified in the second incident when he defecated in a woman’s bathroom, intentionally did not flush the toilet, and poured a brown substance similar to tapioca on toilet seat to give the appearance of excrement.

The 180-day rule is one of many disciplinary reforms the city has prioritized in talks that began in February. Last month, they reached a consensus on the rules an arbitrator must follow to rehire a dismissed police officer, a key part of the police disciplinary process.

Disagreement persists as to whether an officer should be able to see all unwritten investigative documents before they are questioned by Internal Affairs about a complaint. The union says yes while the city wants to keep confidential the identity of the complainant and witnesses.

Tuesday was the 28th time the two negotiating teams have met to strike a new deal. The current contract expired on September 30, but a clause allows most of the terms of the now expired contract to continue for eight years. During this time, however, base salary increases for union members will cease and they will continue to pay higher health insurance premiums each year.

Salaries, healthcare still on the table

While the two sides have agreed on a contract term of at least five years (the union previously wanted six), they are still quite distant when it comes to pay increases.

The city offers a package that mixes lump sum bonuses and base salary increases that amount to an 8.25% increase over five years.

The union’s proposal would halt increases in the first year, but give members a 2% pay rise every six months for the remaining four years. This represents an increase of about 17% over five years.

The two sides have reached consensus on increasing members’ premiums by 10% each year, but remain divided on how to handle increases in drug costs.

If health was at the center of the talks for the 2016-2021 contract, it has largely taken a back seat to disciplinary reform during this round. These ongoing negotiations lasted over two years and ultimately resulted in private court-ordered mediation.

The city dropped its lawsuit against the permanent clause in the police union contract when the deal was approved by city council in 2016.

Lutton said they were closer to a deal now than they were at the same phase of previous negotiations. “The last time we were in a lawsuit, and there was no conversation going on.”

Villagómez was also optimistic about the progress made so far.

“We don’t agree on everything,” she said, “but I think we’ve had productive sessions compared to what we experienced in the last contract.”

About Dianne Stinson

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