Police Chief’s Retirement a Loss for San Antonio

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SAPD Chief McManus in his office at the San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

SAPD Chief McManus in his office at the San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

No one is indispensable, but it won’t be easy replacing William McManus as San Antonio’s police chief.  That said, I happen to believe one strong candidate to succeed him already is working in San Antonio: Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, a retired U.S. Air Force major general. More on that down the page.

McManus, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, will have held the post for more than 8 1/2 years by the time he steps down at the end of the year, making him one of the longest-serving chiefs in the country, a testament to his standing in San Antonio. He’s staying in San Antonio to become the senior security executive at CPS Energy, a new position that reflects CEO Doyle Beneby’s growing concern over the vulnerability of the nation’s energy grid. It will be a challenging job for McManus, but one that offers a far more ordered life than the one experienced by a police chief.

The new job might not be 9 to 5, but it won’t be 24/7, either. For a police chief who took pride in wearing the uniform and showing up at crime scenes, the prospect of sleeping through most nights and enjoying weekends must sound pretty good at this juncture in life.

His job hasn’t been made any easier by the tense standoff between the police union and City staff after collective bargaining talks broke down in June over proposed changes and cuts to the union’s rich health care benefits program. Police chiefs don’t typically get directly involved in contract negotiations, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience the resulting turbulence. That might have influenced the timing of his departure, but it isn’t why he is leaving.

McManus, 62 years old, has been wearing a police uniform for four decades. He previously served as police chief in Minneapolis and in Dayton, and assistant chief in Washington, D.C. Like many who have come to San Antonio for a professional opportunity, McManus and his wife came to love the city and want to raise their children here. The days of entertaining the next big police chief job in the next big city are behind him.

SAPD Chief McManus hands a young boy the traditional offering of flowers to be placed at the Alamo Cathedral's entrance during the Battle of Flowers Parade (2013). Photo by Iris Dimmick.

SAPD Chief McManus hands a young boy the traditional offering of flowers to be placed at the Alamo Cathedral’s entrance during the Battle of Flowers Parade in 2013. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

McManus, by any measure, has been an unqualified success as police chief, the strongest law enforcement leader by far in the 25 years I’ve lived and worked in San Antonio. That’s my personal opinion, of course, but it’s one informed by years of experience. McManus has enjoyed good relations with the rank and file and at City Hall, and he has moved easily through the community, whether he was walking Eastside and Westside streets, promoting community policing, or moving among the city’s business and civic elite at a charity gala.

SAPD Chief William McManus (center) made a brief appearance at the gun rally. Photo by Leslie Kelly.

SAPD Chief William McManus (center) made a brief appearance at the gun rally at the Alamo in 2013. Photo by Leslie Kelly.

As often as not, he showed up in uniform, and in a city that struggles with an obesity epidemic that extends into the police ranks, he is a model of physical fitness. He’s also been a model of ethical comportment. He didn’t win every legal fight with fired and demoted union members, but he did impose elevated standards of behavior on the force. When officers didn’t live up to those standards, he moved swiftly to remove them from the department. Bad cops get dealt with now, and good cops get celebrated and recognized.

Put another way, McManus professionalized the police culture in San Antonio. It might be his biggest achievement, although it could be argued that the good relations he fostered in the inner city with the civilian population was equally notable. San Antonio is an imperfect city with its own challenges and problems, but race and ethnic relations are as good or better here than can be found in any other major U.S. city. McManus’ leadership as police chief had something to do with that.

One physical manifestation of the change under McManus is the $89 million Public Safety Headquarters that opened on West Nueva Street and South Santa Rosa Avenue in 2012. The secure, six-story building that houses both the police and firefighters headquarters presents an entirely  different, more modern image of the city’s police and fire departments. The drab, outdated headquarters building one block away was demolished to make way for the still-unfunded new federal courthouse.

Raising the professional standards of the police department was an early priority for City Manager Sheryl Sculley in what has become her own decade-long tenure here, part of an ambitious strategy to elevate management performance across all uniform and civilian departments. McManus was one of the strongest leaders recruited to San Antonio by Sculley, as she said in a statement this week.

“Bill has been an outstanding police chief, he’s accomplished so much,” Sculley said. “The San Antonio Police Department is better managed, more professional, and has better trained police officers than ever in its history, thanks to Bill’s integrity and leadership.  Chief McManus has developed an exceptionally positive relationship with the community at-large and is respected by one and all in San Antonio and Texas.

“He was one of my strongest hires,” Sculley said, “but the time is right for him in life right now to make this move. He has earned his retirement. We will miss him, but we are happy Bill and his family are staying in San Antonio.”

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus pose for a photo in Hood's office in the Public Safety Headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus pose for a photo in Hood’s office. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The news that he is leaving the department poses a challenge for Sculley and her team at a time when Mayor Julián Castro is packing his bags for a Cabinet post in the Obama administration, City Council is days away from electing an interim mayor, and the Council itself soon will have one or more new names and faces.

Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau

Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau

Who will replace McManus? The police union would like an internal candidate to be promoted, someone with a local track record and established relationships inside the department. The City presumably will hire an executive search firm and conduct a national search. There is one credible candidate for the job wearing a different law enforcement uniform in San Antonio. Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau is a retired two-star Air Force general who has received high marks for her management of the department and the Bexar County Jail.

Many senior military officers have left their mark in public and private sector careers in San Antonio after their retirement from the military. Pamerleau is a fiscal conservative and a strong manager and leader. She will have served for two years as the county’s first female sheriff by the time McManus exits in December.

District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and District Attorney Susan Reed pose for a photo during the opening night of the art installation in Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and District Attorney Susan Reed pose for a photo during the opening night of “The Saga” art installation in Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Antonio wouldn’t be the first major U.S. city to elevate a woman to the top law enforcement job, but it would certainly burnish the city’s growing national image to make such a progressive move. Portland was the first city to appoint a female police chief in 1985. Atlanta was the first city to make an African-American woman its police chief. Washington, D.C.’s dynamic female police chief, Cathy Lanier, once worked under McManus. San Antonio could become the first U.S. city to appoint a female retired military general as police chief.

Some will say she lacks experience as a cop and police administrator. I’d counter that she’s a proven leader, and any woman who can brave the military culture to rise to the rank of major general has the capability to learn, adapt and excel. Of course, Pamerleau might not necessarily consider it a promotion. Let the speculation begin, and let’s not forget to give McManus a sendoff in December that expresses the city’s appreciation for his strong service.

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8 thoughts on “Police Chief’s Retirement a Loss for San Antonio

    • Really? You want someone with a military background and training to run a CIVILIAN law enforcement agency? One that is already too militarized? Please read our constitution, some American history, Radley Balko’s book The Militarization of Policing in America, and then form an educated opinion about such an important issue.

      • I would agree with you that police organizations from the largest to the smallest in this country have become overly militarized by the influx of Department of Homeland Security money and the hardware it buys since 9/11. Big weapons added to small minds and/or inadequate training usually ends in tragedy. I am thinking of young Cameron Redus, for one.

        However, simply because someone has served in our military with honor does not automatically equate to an overly militaristic mindset. I think Sheriff Pamerleau has demonstrated this. She has brought a dignity and professionalism to the department since her arrival. Citizens and law enforcement pros alike have benefited from her steady guidance. She would make a great replacement for McManus.

        • Pamerleau has made improvements at our jail, no doubt about it. But there are still horrific things happening inside those walls. One example is the diabetic inmate who begged for medical care for the sores on his feet but was denied care until he was so bad both feet had to be amputated. And the doctor who did the amputation is so terrified he won’t tell any news outlet about it. That sort of thing still goes on, on a regular basis. Pamerleau’s much better than her predecessors at controlling what gets out of her shop. Military training.

  1. This site will not post my remarks because I state the truth just released through Open Records, that this police chief had labeled EVERY police shooting as “justified” the citizens of San Antonio should know that we are #1 in the entire state of Texas with police shootings and officer involved deaths. Why are we celebrated an epic failure of protecting our citizens?

    • You misunderstand, Fulton Price. The San Antonio PD does not protect our citizens—it protects our government and the people who run it. Citizens and government are two VERY different things in San Antonio. Before hearing a case involving any polie officer our DA shows a video to prejudice grand jurors against their fellow citizens in favor of government employees. This record number of shootings and no indictment of a polie officer is an epic success in the eyes of COSA, the business community who runs the city, and the polie union who runs the business community. Get it?

  2. How about we select the most qualified candidate instead of putting “being viewed as progressive” as a primary goal?

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