Today, San Antonio Chief of Police William McManus and San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley announced the start of a new class at the San Antonio Police Academy. This class is actually known as Cadet Class 2016 Bravo. As of April 25 according to an open records request there were 32 cadets appointed to the class but enrollment was expected to be between 50 and 55.
According to the press release by the Public Affairs Department a total of 51 cadets entered the class. 42 of the prospective police officers are male and 9 are female. This class is a diverse class composed of 31 Hispanics, 18 Caucasian and two African American.
However what does the new class mean to the shrinking numbers on the San Antonio Police force? According to the open records request, currently the Fiscal Year Ending 2016 budget funds 2,385 positions. Yet there are only 2,211 officers currently serving. This leaves the department short 174 officers to protect the Alamo City.
According to SAPD’s Jesus Salame, Sargent Public Information Office, “Your numbers concerning the vacancies are inaccurate. You are not counting the cadets recently seated in the Academy.”
According to SAPD policies, cadets are not issued a badge until they successfully complete and graduate the Academy. They hold no authority to enforce the laws of San Antonio. They will not be able to respond to 9-1-1 calls until they finish the required eight months of probationary training after graduation of the Academy.
Of the 51 students who entered the 2016 Bravo class, two students dropped out of the Academy during the first day of training. So according to Sargent Salame’s calculations, the vacancies on SAPD have decreased by 49. Although you will not see those 49 officers on patrol for at least 8 months, then they will be with their Field Training Officer for 3 months, and by March 2017 those who graduated and completed their field training will be able to handle 9-1-1 calls and be assigned a beat to patrol. However they will remain on probation for the remainder of one year.
As of April 6, sixty-six officers had tendered their resignation or retired from the force. Officials within the police department are estimating that a total of 100 officers will leave the SAPD before the end of the fiscal year in October.
Compared to last year, eighty-six officers left the police force.
The Police Academy is the organization responsible for replacing those who retire or leave the force. It is next to impossible for an experienced officer to be hired without having to go through some form of the academy.
In 2015 the Police Academy only held two classes. According to those in the application department, there were not enough qualified applicants to offer more than two classes.
Cadet Class 2015 Bravo started in August of 2015 and concluded in April 2016. 20 cadets started the class and 17 finished for graduation. However, just because an cadet graduates from the Police Academy he is not a full member of the force. He/she is considered a probationary officer and must be accompanied by a Field Training Officer and the training will be completed in July of 2016. So this does not add an additional officer that can report to duty in any sector or district but must be treated as a two-man unit.
The first class of 2016, Cadet Class 2016 Alpha started class work in January of 2016 and is slated for graduation in September of 2016. These cadets will complete field training in December of 2016. The class started with 42 cadets and 3 arson investigators. 38 students remain in the class at this time with the three arson investigators.
The third class of 2016, Cadet Class 2016 Charlie is expected to begin in July 2016. Officials are hoping to have 50 students in the class, but this will be dependant upon qualified applicants. Graduation is scheduled for February of 2017 and field training will be completed by June of 2017.
The final class of 2016, Cadet Class 2016 David is scheduled to start September 2016 with an expectation of 50 candidates provided there are qualified applicants. Graduation is scheduled for May 2017 and field training to be completed in August 2017.
So although there will be four academy classes this year, the number of “boots on the ground” available to fill vacancies and shortages remain tenuous at best because of the length of training and cadet class length.
To help alleviate the shortage of available officers, high-ranking authorities offered a modified academy. For those officers who currently serve on a police force in cities with populations over 150,000 they could apply for the modified academy, which only lasted for four months.
As of April 2016 no candidates attempted to apply for the modified academy so the program is being postponed until further notice.
When officers from surrounding areas that met the requirement were asked why they didn’t apply, their answers cited the contract controversy with City Hall and the San Antonio Police Officers Association. Many expressed they had no desire to leave their current situation where they knew their pay and benefits to join a force where pay and benefits remain uncertain.
According to City Manager Sculley the current contract with the Police Officers Association will bankrupt the City of San Antonio unless the Association agrees to serious cuts in benefits.
However, in the press release issued by the Public Affairs Department the City prides itself in offering a benefit package second only to the City of Austin. The press release cites this information as a reason for people to join the Police Department.
The City of San Antonio and the Police Department are feeling the effects of the shortage of personnel. Currently officers who have not served on patrol for most of their career are now being sent into patrol situations without additional training. As one police officer shared, “If you do not keep your training active and fresh you lose some of the skills you acquired. If I am working a beat as a SAFFE officer, I am not encountering people who are breaking the law on a daily basis or willing to resist actions of an officer. Their reactions will be slower, it will be different. This is dangerous for the officer and their community.”
To fill districts with officers to prevent even slower response time, the department is providing overtime to those officers who are willing to work. As of April 6 the department has spent $9,205,193.20 in overtime pay for officers to patrol the streets of the Alamo City.
According to an Association officer, “one police officer had worked so much overtime, he fell asleep while driving home and was involved in an accident costing the officer his life.”
Other police officers express the concern, “As more of us continue to work long hours we are becoming fatigued slowing our reaction time creating a danger for ourselves and those we are sworn to protect.”
(Editor’s note- this is the first in a series of articles examining the San Antonio Police Department)