Mike Kueber's Blog

March 20, 2014

SAPD – to protect and to serve

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:23 pm
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The city of San Antonio is preparing to go to war against the police and fire unions over their collective bargaining agreement.  The city manager has advised the public that if police and fire compensation, especially including the pension and medical costs, continue to grow as expected under the current arrangements, then that compensation will consume 100% of the city’s operational budget with in the next two or three of decades.

Obviously, something has to be done, but the unions are stubbornly insisting that the city should find cuts elsewhere.  The obvious question for the unions – how can you cut elsewhere if the police/fire budget eventually consumes 100% of the city’s budget?  Cutting elsewhere would only put off the eventual day of reckoning.

The unions’ fallback position is that the city should grow its budget by raising taxes.  Even San Antonio’s callow politicians concede that that idea is a nonstarter.

Nowhere is there any talk about paying the police/fire unions a reasonable, fair amount of compensation.  Rather, the power of the unions has the city leaders agreeing to pay as much as the city can afford without gutting other city services or raising taxes.

On Facebook today, the SAPD posted some photos of a cop spending some “break” time in a playground working with an underprivileged kid.  I commented that we can expect to see a lot of this anecdotal stuff from police/fire to support the notion that San Antonio should pay these uniformed men and women as much as we can possibly afford.  I also suggested that, based on my anecdotal interactions with the San Antonio police, I seriously doubt that residents of the city receive especially good service from these public servants.

Anecdotal evidence is not a good way to evaluate service.  From my experience in the insurance industry, I know that companies collect metrics that enable management to compare the quality of service over time and amongst various companies.  I wonder if San Antonio has any metrics that compares the quality of the service the city is currently receiving to that in other cities, both in and out of Texas.

Of course, the quality of that service will not have a direct effect on the amount of compensation provided to police/fire employees, but it will give residents a more realistic understanding of the issue.

April 13, 2011

DWI wars and “no refusal” in San Antonio

There is no doubt that the chief of the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) and the district attorney for Bexar County are engaged in a coordinated war against drinking and driving.  Everywhere you turn, there are television commercials, high-tech highway signs, and newspaper articles that deploy both the carrot and stick approach.  The carrot approach includes an announcement of a program to subsidize cab rides for bar patrons; the stick approach includes an announcement of “no refusal” for the duration of Fiesta.

“No refusal” is a strategy for the SAPD and District Attorney (“Law & Order”) to convict suspected drunk drivers who refuse to incriminate themselves.  Because the evidence that police officers rely on to stop the driver is almost never adequate to secure a DWI conviction, it is critical for the officer during the stop to secure additional evidence – e.g., a roadside agility test or a breath test.  The problem for the Law & Order personnel is that (a) drivers have the right to refuse these tests, and (b) their refusal can be trumped only by a court order for a BAC blood test. 

Historically, a police officer has been unable to promptly secure a court order at 3 a.m., and the delay rendered any test results unusable.  The “no refusal” strategy is based on improving the logistics for obtaining a court order for a BAC blood test.  By simply keeping prosecutors and a judge on 24/7 status, a court order can be obtained within 15 minutes of the traffic stop.  With a court order, the blood is promptly drawn, and the driver with BAC in excess of .08 is left only with a technical argument that the traffic stop or the court order was not justified.

Not surprisingly, criminal-defense lawyers would much prefer defending a driver who provided no objective evidence other than erratic driving or slurred speech, but the Law & Order people seem to have the upper hand.  But, “Not so fast,” screamed a full-page ad in the San Antonio Express-News today.  Actually the huge red headline read, “Choose to Refuse.”  The ad by two criminal-defense attorneys said, “No Refusal Weekend is government propaganda, not the law.”  The ad went on to say that drivers could refuse roadside agility tests, roadside breath tests, breath tests at the station, and on misdemeanor cases with no injury, blood tests.

There is no doubt that drivers can refuse to incriminate themselves at the scene of the stop, but I can find no support for the defense lawyers’ claim that driver can refuse a blood tests in misdemeanor cases (i.e., no prior DWI) with no injury.  To the contrary, many DWI lawyers take the position that, when a “no refusal” program is in effect, drivers are better off agreeing to provide a breath sample because those results aren’t as definitive as an otherwise inevitable blood draw.

I’m hoping the San Antonio media shows that it is not a propaganda arm for San Antonio’s Law & Order folks and that it reports further on this serious indictment of their reporting.

July 29, 2010

Truth, justice, and the American Way – San Antonio style

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights of all men.  Many years later in Superman comic books, this concept evolved into “the American Way” (i.e., truth, justice, and the American Way).  Although I am not an anthropologist or a world traveler qualified to speak of other cultures, I believe that an overarching belief in justice is one of America’s enduring, singular values.  Whereas people in other countries seen willing to accept an unjust result or an unfair system, Americans often go to great lengths to correct an injustice as a matter of principle.  Part of that motivation comes from an optimistic belief that, although mistakes sometimes happen, they will be corrected if brought to the attention of our leaders. 

As a lawyer, I am an especially strong believer in truth, justice, and the American way because I have not seen a lot of injustice in our country that couldn’t be corrected with the help of a competent advocate.  A couple of years ago, however, my belief was shaken a bit by San Antonio’s finest.  

The San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) has been controversial since I moved to town in 1987.  The police union has a lot of political power, which has been used to win a series of expensive employment contracts with the city.  Although the education of the officers is relatively low, their pay is relatively high, especially for a low-income city like San Antonio.  According to a national survey of desirable police jobs, San Antonio is #2 in the county. 

That #2 status seemed like a stroke of good fortune for my oldest son, Bobby, who has always been interested in law enforcement.  After graduating from Clark HS, he obtained a criminal justice degree from UTSA and also became an Army Reserve officer through UTSA’s ROTC, with a Military Police specialty. 

After getting married, Bobby and his school-teacher wife decided to settle in San Antonio, so he applied to the SAPD.  At first, everything went fine – his education was exceptional, military service was a plus, and he passed the exam and physical test with ease.

Then there was a hiccup.  During an interview, Bobby was asked if he had every broken a drug law.  Because Bobby is scrupulously honest (and had been taught in Boy Scouts that alcohol was a drug), he thought carefully and recalled that a couple of years earlier, when he was 21 years old, he had purchased some beer for some younger friends on a few occasions.  Surely that wouldn’t be a problem.

After the interview, Bobby was informed that, because he admitted to committing a Class A or B misdemeanor within the past ten years, he was deemed unsuitable for the position and would not be eligible to reapply until the unsuitability factor was no longer applicable (eight more years).  That is like a death penalty – what college kid is going to wait around for eight years to start a career? 

At my encouragement, Bobby went through police channels to question the result.  The interviewer told Bobby that the problematic question wasn’t designed to elicit alcohol-related information, and Bobby would have been telling the truth if he had answered “no.”  But since he had answered the question “yes,’ the rules required that he be rejected.

I was nonplussed.  Surely some human being with authority would over-rule this bureaucratic absurdity.  So I went to work looking for a human being.  I wrote to the Mayor, the City Manager, my Councilperson, and the Chief of Police, but no one was interested in correcting this injustice.  A friend at Valero put me in touch with the previous police chief, Al Phillipus, and I had a lengthy discussion with him, but he said that he didn’t have the ability to influence the result. 

In the end, Bobby and I gave up.  One stupid, inflexible rule stymied Bobby’s career.  He considered applying at other police departments, but there is usually a question about whether you have previously been rejected by another police department.  His alternative was to seek a federal job, and he was just about to land a job with ICE when he decided to go full-time in the Texas Guard.

The silver lining is that Bobby is happy with his job serving our country and doesn’t look back on San Antonio’s refusal to let him serve the city.  But I’m afraid this incident has made me a bit cynical about San Antonio government and justice.