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The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The San Marcos Police Department cannot govern itself


In February, San Marcos became the first city in the country to repeal a police contract, meaning the city revoked many privileges afforded to the San Marcos Police until a new contract was drawn and signed.
This decision came after the activist group Mano Amiga attracted the attention of the San Marcos City Council, which handed down a decision to the city’s police department nullifying the previously enacted meet and confer contract by June 7
Founded in 2017 as a response to raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Mano Amiga became a local organization dedicated to helping specifically undocumented migrants living in Hays County. Since its founding, Mano Amiga has extended its efforts to broader criminal justice reform. 
Earlier this year, the organization challenged the standing police contract between the City of San Marcos and San Marcos Police Department (SMPD), citing that notable reforms supported by San Marcos constituents were missing from the current agreement. 
After collecting over 1,300 signatures and rallying the city council to their cause, the city repealed the contract in February.
However, this victory would prove to be brief; the efforts put forth by Mano Amiga were all but ignored during the drawing of a new police contract. This shows an alarming attitude of not only the police department but the local government as a whole. Constituents should not have to put up a fight for their government to treat them fairly and transparently. 
In the context of Mano Amiga’s requests, what was presented as a progressive police contract could not even be considered a concession. None of the reforms presented by those working with the organization were included in the new contract.
Activists with Mano Amiga cited their primary concerns with the contract to lie with what they call the Hartman Reforms, named after Ryan Hartman, the San Marcos officer responsible for killing a woman and injuring another while driving impaired, of whom the surviving woman partnered with Mano Amiga to have the city repeal the contract. 
Proposals such as ending the infamous “180-day” rule, closing the two-day misconduct interview delay, suspending or ending third-party arbitration and ending vacation forfeiture in lieu of suspension are some of the major reforms demanded by Mano Amiga. 
The 180-day rule in Texas police departments describes a set of policies targeting police misconduct. The rule acts as a light statute of limitations on officer misconduct. In most cases, the department has 180-days to investigate the wrongdoings of an officer or that officer will continue working on the force. The policy in most police departments stems from a standardizing of figures. Most policies work in units of 180-day periods, so the number itself is quite arbitrary.
The 180-day rule was the primary target of the reforms, given that the San Marcos police chief cited the rule as the reason Hartman could not be charged or investigated, but that remained virtually unchanged. The rule still provides a 180-day statute of limitations on when a police officer can be investigated for a non-criminal infraction or sexual harassment.
It incentivizes officers to “wait out the clock” until the investigation cannot take place. The revision is a solid step in the right direction, but a far cry from being effective at curtailing police misconduct as it exists today.
Despite the efforts put forward by Mano Amiga, none of the Hartman reforms were included in the new police contract. There were positive changes made to the contract, but they were either redundant or watered-down versions of the Hartman reforms which did not address the problems Mano Amiga brought forth. 
Some of the reforms, such as the extension of the 180-day investigation period to 360-days for some types of misconduct, show promise with future contracts, but as they exist now are not effective enough at holding officers accountable for their actions.
The reforms proposed by Mano Amiga would likely prevent another officer from appealing their case or avoiding criminal charges like Hartman did, whereas the current provision (a “360-day” rule for criminal charges only) would allow for a repeat Hartman situation.
Critics of this perspective may point out that the Texas code for the local government all but mandates the 180-day rule. While this is mostly true, local government code handed down from the state in question and not ruled on by a higher court is rarely unchangeable and falls primarily into the hands of the city and county until legally challenged.
Closing loopholes and honing in on policy abuse is at the center of the movement to reform SMPD. These types of reforms are uncomplicated, legally defensible and supported by the majority of the population. 
The San Marcos Police Department has a long history of making mistakes when investigating its own and being opaque when it comes to accountability, especially regarding the Hartman investigation. Mano Amiga’s requests should be honored and a new contract drawn up by the city to reflect the will of its constituents.

-Kien Johnson is a sociology sophomore

The University Star welcomes Letters to the Editor from its readers. All submissions are reviewed and considered by the Editor-in-Chief and Opinion Editor for publication. Not all letters are guaranteed for publication.

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