The San Antonio Police Department and the Civil Service Commission are adjusting the rules covering applicants to the Police Academy, to stop automatically excluding individuals who admit to using illegal drugs as a teenager, News Radio 1200 WOAI News reports.
Chief Bill McManus says he certainly does not condone the use of illegal drugs, but he says a lot of people make 'poor choices' when they are kids, and, like several agencies, including the U.S. military, he believes that those poor choices should not hurt a person's chances of getting a meaningful job as an adult.
"Poor choices when you're young should not be a permanent disqualifier for somebody wanting to be a police officer," McManus told a City Council committee.
McManus stressed that this is not a 'dumbing down' of the police force, pointing out that his recruiters are still getting more qualified applicants for every police academy class than they are room for. He also stressed that the new rules would not require him to admit applicants who admit to minor drug use, but would simply give him the discretion to take an applicant's total life history into consideration.
Cpt. Brian Reyes, who heads the Training Academy, says it does the citizens of San Antonio and the Police Department no good when supremely talented candidates have to be turned away due to a minor indiscretion as a teenager.
He cited a Bronze Star recipient who would have to be rejected under the old rules."He has an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army and he was a Master Sergeant," Reyes said. "He served as a combat engineer for 13 years in the U.S. Army. This applicant would have been permanently disqualified for using inhalants when he was 17 years old."
McManus says nobody will be allowed to join the ranks of the SAPD if they were convicted of any drug offense, and his new policy will only extend to applicants who admit to minor recreational drug use when they were a minor. It will not cover people who admit to family violence or other offenses.
"Even with these changes, SAPD standards are still higher than most departments across this state," McManus said.
But the San Antonio Police Officers Association is urging Mayor Nirenberg to overturn the Civil Service Commission's new rules.
“We’ve seen the results of neighboring law enforcement agencies that lowered their standards and paid the price,” said Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association. “I don’t want San Antonio to go down that road, and I ask Mayor Nirenberg to direct the Commission to reverse their decision.
”Helle, who is an SAPD Detective, pointed out that the Bexar County Sheriff is raising standards for applicants following an embarrassing run of two dozen deputies and employees arrested during 2018, yet the SAPD is 'moving in the opposite direction.'
The union is urging City Council to step in and block the changes.