At a work session Tuesday, San Marcos police Chief Chase Stapp laid out his plan for a nine-person Police Chief's Advisory Panel charged with bringing issues about community policing to the table.
"The focus intensified around the time [Senate Bill] 4 became such a hot topic in the news," Stapp said, referring to the Texas sanctuary cities bill that requires jails to honor all federal immigration detainer requests and ensures the right of any law-enforcement officer to inquire about immigration status in the midst of a legal detainment.
San Marcos residents took particular issue with this bill, staging a protest at city hall in late summer and asking City Council to join the lawsuit alleging the law was unconstitutional. At least one citizen called for a citizen's advisory panel to monitor police interactions.
Council did not join the lawsuit, instead filing an amicus brief opposing SB4.
On Sept. 25, the law was deemed partly in effect by a panel of three appellate court judges, who ruled the detainer provision—which requires jail officials to honor all detainers—can stand for now. A final decision has not yet been made.
"I really want this group to be collaborative," Stapp said of the advisory panel. "I want the community members to be able to glean information from the department members and vice versa."
The panel will be composed of four culturally and geographically diverse residents, four sworn or auxiliary police department personnel and one Texas State University facilitator who has experience in mediation, criminal justice or political science. Stapp would also sit in on the panel meetings.
Stapp and City Manager Bert Lumbreras will vet and select panel members, accepting suggestions from City Council. They said allowing City Council members to select the panelists would politicize the panel, something they said they wanted to avoid.
Citizen panelists will be required to have graduated from the department's 14-week Citizen Police Academy, have done a recent ride along, demonstrate prior community involvement and have no felony convictions.
In preparing to create the panel, Stapp said he researched the cities of Austin and San Antonio's police advisory panels, both of which review complaints of serious misconduct and criminal violations by police officers and give recommendations to the police chief.
He said he wants the San Marcos panel to focus more on general community-police relations and collaborations.
Stapp said the department has also been reviewing all of its policies as it goes through the Texas Police Chiefs Association's Best Practices Recognition Program, a voluntary process where departments perform careful internal reviews of their policies, procedures, equipment, facilities and operations.
In 2017, SMPD received eight external complaints, seven of which were related to discourtesies, one of which was related to officer inattentiveness, Stapp said.
SMPD received two serious internal complaints in 2017, resulting in two employee resignations. Stapp said over the last seven years, six officers resigned or were terminated as a result of misconduct. Two of those terminations resulted in criminal violations.
Council member Scott Gregson said the low numbers should be applauded and were an indication the department already has good relations with the community.
"I want to make sure we do provide a panel here whose objective is to achieve the things we’re really looking to achieve." he said. "I think it's an opportune time, as you say, to have community outreach so you have people who really understand in granular detail what the policies are."
Communications director Kristy Stark said the creation of the panel will be formally brought back to council for approval in the coming months, and then the city manager and police chief will begin vetting and selecting panelists.
Additional reporting by Christopher Neely.