Initial tensions on Mayor Ivy Taylor’s Police-Community Relations Committee have given way to a more cooperative atmosphere as members began hashing out specific policies and outreach programs aimed at bridging gaps between law enforcement and communities Monday night at City Hall.
It will meet in four subcommittees focused on police recruitment, training, communication, and community collaboration before its next meeting in March.
“It’s going in the direction I want it to,” Taylor told the Rivard Report during the fifth committee meeting. “We’ve got to see what will happen with these breakout meetings, but my staff, we’re really going to try and monitor them.”
When the committee reconvenes in March, it plans to draft a report with policy recommendations for consideration by the Criminal Justice, Public Safety, and Services Committee in April. The five-member City Council committee is chaired by Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).
In the subcommittee breakout sessions Monday evening, several preliminary proposals emerged including cultural competence and emotional management training for police officers and programs to help citizens better empathize with the challenges officers face.
Taylor initiated the committee in response to community outcry after the City Council approved a controversial contract with the police union in September 2016, which followed a wave of police shootings across the nation. Some, including members of the local Black Lives Matter movement, argued the contract leaves officers unaccountable. Taylor and the eight other City Council members who voted in favor of the deal described it as a successful compromise.
While prominent activists like SATX4’s Mike Lowe have withdrawn from their committee membership, calling it a “losing battle,” others remain cautiously optimistic.
“There’s an old adage that says you hang around a dog long enough, you’re gonna get fleas,” said Martin Henderson. “So if I keep showing up to these meetings, you know, I could be the one that brings about change. But at least I want to be able to go to bed at night knowing I tried.”
Henderson is the founder of Fatherhood Matters Incorporated, a support group for fathers, and outreach manager of a violence prevention program.
“The system was not broken over night, so it’s not going to be fixed over night,” he added. “And that is something the community needs to understand.”
This echoed a theme stressed by the committee’s facilitator, University of Texas at San Antonio Professor of Criminal Justice Michael Gilbert.
A sense of “trust, respect, and reciprocity” between the police and communities, Gilbert said, is the cornerstone to resolving tensions. Policy can help foster these sentiments, but only when informed by the arduous commitment of genuine dialogue.
“We have to invest in each other’s communities,” he explained, “and we have to be willing to listen, even when it’s uncomfortable.”
Several citizen speakers appeared less confident in the conversations they watched from the side of the room.
“This is not something I haven’t seen in my 72 years,” said Richard Dukes said. “But I’m here to find out if the hot water is going to come down the hill, and when it gets to the bottom, it’s cold.”
Like many other citizen speakers, Dukes argued that the police force on its own can’t solve the high crime his Eastside neighborhood faces, calling on community leaders to reach deeper into San Antonio’s most neglected areas.
Others detailed stories of police neglect similar those told during the committee’s previous session.
“When I first went to the police department at the Eastside police substation, I was told to be patient,” said Joseph Garcia, describing his experience living next door to a major drug operation.
“The house was not shut down for 23 months. In this time, there were seven gun calls – a couple of threats to me personally – 69 drug calls, three news segments on this house… What does patience mean? When I get shot or killed? This kind of behavior would never be allowed in Stone Oak.”
In response to these concerns, SAPD Chief William McManus emphasized the overall strong performance of the police in his charge.
“What we need to know – instead of hearing generalities – what we need to know are specifics so we can go back and look into what happened,” he told the Rivard Report.
Meeting attendance resurged after a dip in December. McManus and the mayor were joined by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, District Attorney Nicolas LaHood, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, City Council members Alan Warrick (D2), Viagran, Rey Saldaña (D4), and Cris Medina (D7), and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Richard Perez.