Update May 4: This article has been updated to include a statement from Mano Amiga.

Three months of negotiations between the city of San Marcos and the San Marcos Police Officers' Association has brought forth a new meet and confer agreement after the former contract was repealed in February, following a petition effort led by local activist group Mano Amiga.

The context

In June 2020, then-San Marcos Police Sgt. Ryan Hartman was off-duty when he allegedly sped through a stop sign and collided with another vehicle in Lockhart that contained two passengers; Pam Watts sustained traumatic injuries but survived while her life partner, Jennifer Miller, died as a result of the accident.

Hartman was ultimately charged with a Class C misdemeanor traffic violation, according to a statement from the city of San Marcos.

Watts partnered with Mano Amiga to repeal the existing agreement through a petition effort and add the Five Hartman Reforms in order to increase police oversight and transparency within the police department.

The reforms

These are the five reforms that Watts and Mano Amiga have demanded to be added to the new agreement:
  • End the 180-day rule: a police officer cannot be disciplined or reprimanded for an incident 180 days after it occurs;
  • End delay of interviews for misconduct: repeals current conditions where officers are allotted 48 hours to prepare answers in interviews; officers also have the ability to review video footage, photos and other materials prior to giving an official statement;
  • Public transparency for personnel files: documented misconduct should be available to the community;
  • End third-party arbitration; and
  • End vacation forfeiture as a substitute to suspension.
The new contract

At the May 2 City Council meeting, Police Chief Stan Standridge presented the new agreement that addresses the reforms but does not include all the changes that Watts and Mano Amiga hoped for.

Instead of ending the 180-day rule, the negotiated outcome for this reform essentially doubles the timeframe in which an officer can be disciplined for an incident.

"The chief must file a written complaint within 180 days of the occurrence of the alleged act and temporarily or indefinitely suspend the officer no later than the 180th day after the date the complaint of the alleged violation is filed by the chief," Standridge said. "In other words, that gives me five days short of an entire year.

There was no change in the contract regarding the 48-hour time frame in which an officer can review any evidence and prepare a statement, meaning the reform did not make it into the new agreement. Standridge said that while some believe this practice gives police officers an unfair advantage, citizens actually have more rights in this situation as they can plead the fifth amendment, so as to not self-incriminate; police officers cannot plead the fifth and must cooperate in an investigation.

"If the police officer with the city of San Marcos refuses to cooperate with the administrative investigation, they can be terminated," Standridge said. "Even if it means self incrimination, it's important these protected rights remain a part of any negotiated agreement."

In regards to the reform for public transparency with personnel files, there will be more documentation made available to the public regarding any misconduct that results in either an indefinite suspension, a temporary agreed suspension or a demotion. These will also be documented and taken into account during the promotion process.

"For the first time in the history of the city of San Marcos, letter of reprimand will now count if this agreement is passed by [City Council] and by the association; they will now count [in] the promotion process," Standridge said.

Ultimately, letters of congratulations, documentation of misconduct and periodic evaluations will be made available to the public; any other personnel files on an officer will not be made public or available.

Third-party arbitration will remain on the new contract.

"Unless there is evidence that the chief's decision was the result of unlawful discrimination or based on sudden, unaccountable changes of mood or behavior ... or based on random choice or personal whim rather than any reason ... the arbitrator may not substitute his or her judgement for the chief's on the disciplinary penalty," Standridge said.

Essentially, the role of the arbitrator has become more limited through this provision, but third-party arbitration remains.

Lastly, officers may still forfeit vacation time to avoid suspensions, and the misconduct will be documented and, again, taken into account when promotions are being considered.

Standridge said that vacation forfeiture in lieu of a suspension "is very attractive to me" because otherwise, the officer needs to be taken off the streets and the department then needs to fill that void.

"We're running at 18% variance on authorized staffing because we're so short staffed," Standridge said. "To take another officer off the streets is a huge shortcoming for me."

On May 3, Mano Amiga issued a statement on Instagram regarding the new police contract.

"Some of the 'crumbs' offered by this new contract relate to how the department considers promotions," the statement read. "It is disheartening that the overall tone of the night from multiple leaders remained along the lines of 'Please approve this contract so we can focus on fighting the increase in violent crime,' which is based off of the department's self-reported and over-inflated data."

What's next

The contract will come before the City Council on May 16 for approval.

"Mano Amiga continues to maintain that zero of the crumbs offered by the powers that be will result in more accountability and transparency within our local police force, and we urge members of the council to demand more from our police department," the statement read.

If so desired, the community can create another petition to repeal the contract for new negotiations and terms.