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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

Local activism group to submit petitions to repeal police protections

Local+activism+group+to+submit+petitions+to+repeal+police+protections

Local political action committee Mano Amiga Safe Communities plans to submit a petition to repeal civil service protections for the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) by the end of the month.

Local Government Code Chapter 143, which provides civil service protections, was established by the Texas Legislature in 1987 to provide increased standards and protections for municipal police in jurisdictions with more than 10,000 residents. Chapter 143 controls the rules police departments must follow for hiring, firing, career advancement and disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers.

“Civil service laws established criteria for hiring [officers], they now have to meet certain standards by law, ” Howard Williams, a lecturer in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology and former SMPD chief, said. “If [Chapter 143] is repealed there will still be certain minimum qualifications, but I could hire anybody I want and I can promote anyone I want.”

Mano Amiga Safe Communities launched its petition in October 2023 in response to San Marcos City Council’s failure to adopt the “Hartman Reforms” when renegotiating the meet and confer agreement with the San Marcos Police Officer’s Association.

The Hartman Reforms were a series of proposed reforms named after Ryan Hartman, a former SMPD Sergeant who struck the vehicle of Jennifer Miller and Pamela Watts, resulting in Miller’s death in 2020.

The reforms aimed to increase the accountability of SMPD personnel by allowing longer times to investigate instances of alleged wrongdoing, preventing officers from having time to prepare for interviews after incidents, ending vacation forfeiture instead of suspensions, increasing officer file transparency and ending third-party arbitration to negotiate disciplinary actions.

“The [meet and confer] contract was one protection, [and Chapter 143] is another so this is the next step in making sure law enforcement officers have a degree of accountability and transparency,” Executive Director for Mano Amiga Safe Communities Eric Martinez said.

Martinez said under the current system, there is little residents can do to demand SMPD or the city to take action against an officer involved in an alleged wrongdoing.

“When an officer does something bad and you go to their boss, [their boss] has to check if there’s some window [to investigate] that runs out, if there’s a specific policy they need to refer to,” Martinez said. “So the police chief’s hands are tied from making sure we have the highest [quality] of law enforcement officers in our community.”

According to a statement from the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) emailed to The University Star by the San Marcos Police Officer’s Association, Chapter 143 protections allow law enforcement officers to operate free of discrimination and political influence.

“Political subdivisions who have not adopted the chapter are constantly attempting to mirror the standards within as best they can, whether that be in their city charters or by internal policy,” CLEAT’s statement said.

CLEAT claimed Chapter 143 protections ended racial and sexual discrimination in the hiring practices of police departments.

According to Williams, civil service protections have helped hiring equality in Texas law enforcement agencies, but have not fully stopped the problem as CLEAT stated.

“Race and gender are no longer qualifications [under Chapter 143],” Williams said. “You do well on the [entrance] exam then you’re at the top of the [hiring list].”

While Mano Amiga Safe Communities wants to bring increased accountability for police in San Marcos, Williams said repealing Chapter 143 could cause some officers to leave to surrounding police departments that would still have Chapter 143 protections like Kyle.

“A lot of qualified applicants are just simply going to go look for jobs elsewhere,” Williams said. “If officers want to leave to go to work in places where they have civil service protection they’re pretty much going to leave right away.”

Mano Amiga Safe Communities currently has over 400 signatures but requires 542 signatures to bring the petition to city council, which it plans to submit in April. This would force a vote by the council on a public referendum on the November ballot.

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