Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Recommendations to improve police oversight in San Antonio

The Texas Civil Rights Project has issued a new report (pdf) analyzing sustained police misconduct complaints at the San Antonio PD. According to the accompanying press release:
The Texas Civil Rights Project joined with a number of San Antonio community leaders to release its 12th Human Rights Report, “Police Misconduct In San Antonio: The Need For More Accountability, Transparency, And Responsiveness.”

A string of incidents in the past few years has revealed a troubling pattern of misconduct by San Antonio police officers, ranging from illegal searches and sexual misconduct to unresponsiveness and indifference to victims. The thread connecting these incidents is the fact that better supervision, accountability, and transparency by SAPD could have prevented them. TCRP documented many of these events, discovered from accounts by community members, SAPD records, media reports, and its own intake process.

“All the information leads to one, double-edged conclusion: SAPD’s response to incidents of police misconduct is often too late; the misconduct might have been prevented, had SAPD acted ahead of time,” said Jim Harrington, TCRP Director. “Police supervisors take action only after an officer does something awful, when it’s already too late to work with that officer to nip future problems in the bud. SAPD has commissioned independent auditors in the past to study these issues. Some changes are beginning to take hold, though many reforms have not yet been considered, fallen by the wayside, or have yet to be implemented. The long and short of it is that police supervisors, up and down the line, have to be held responsible for the misdeeds of the officers under them.”

“We discovered a departmental culture in SAPD, especially Internal Affairs, that protects its own and resists any real supervision,” said Nicholas Jackson, a TCRP attorney, who helped prepare the report over the last year. “Citizens report a variety of problems with the police, often when they are the victims and especially when they attempt to lodge complaints against officers. But SAPD Internal Affairs creates a hostile environment for people who try to report possible police misconduct. SAPD also suffers from a serious lack of transparency that impedes public scrutiny, and many roadblocks protect officers against the possibility of serious repercussions for most of their actions.”

SAPD’s current police chief, William McManus, has made some efforts to move the department in the right direction by listening to citizens’ concerns. In order to encourage continued improvement on this front, this report provides forty-one (41) specific recommendations that address institutional problems in SAPD’s culture, training, and policies. The recommended changes focus on the following areas:

* Making investigation of citizen complaints more independent, transparent, meaningful, and less intimidating
* Training officers how to be allies to victims and people suffering discrimination in order for police to be more effective
* Holding police supervisors at all levels actually accountable when they fail to properly supervise and discipline police officers who commit misconduct
* Improve technical and supervisory systems for monitoring line officers’ day-to-day conduct to make sure they follow the rules and their training

The complete report, along with additional reference materials, is available on TCRP’s website, at

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