Police Chief Joe Treviño announced that possibility to the three-member Police Civil Service Commission Monday evening minutes after the commission’s newest member, retired Highway Patrol Sgt. Jim Cardenas, was elected chairman of the group.
Cardenas was sworn in at the beginning of the meeting by City Secretary Tomas P. Sanez. He had been appointed recently by the City Council to replace Hugh Robie.
Robie also was a retired Highway Patrol sergeant and chairman of the group. He died in 2009.
Cardenas currently teaches law enforcement classes at Coastal Bend College.
Commissioner Carmen Garza nominated Commissioner Henry Torralva to serve as chairman but Torralva declined, saying he thought Cardenas should hold the position because of his experience in law enforcement.
“I’ll be honored,” Cardenas said when Torralva asked him if he would chair the group.
Torralava was then elected vice chairman.
The possibility of a Civil Service election was brought up as Treviño approached the end of a report to the commission.
The chief had outlined the testing, training and educational requirements of city officers and the duties that policemen have once they begin patrolling city streets.
Treviño said one of his problems is keeping experienced officers on the department. He said he prefers to hire officers who are already certified because it helps him get them on the street earlier and it saves the department the cost of sending applicants to the police academy at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.
Civil Service requires the chief to hire applicants who have made the top three scores on the department’s entrance exam. He is not allowed to pass over an applicant who is not certified and hire one who is.
That means the department ends up having to hire high-scoring officers and take on the expense of paying them a salary, providing them transportation to and from the Corpus Christi and paying for their meals during the four months it takes them to get through the academy.
He said he asks all his new officers to stay with the department at least two years after they are hired. But he cannot legally require them to sign a contract that will force them to stay that long after the city has paid the expense of training them.
Sometimes officers find a job with a higher paying department within months of finishing their field training.
Treviño said he will be losing several officers in coming weeks.
The chief said he has been told that a number of certified officers working in smaller departments around Bee County have expressed a desire to work in Beeville if they can bypass the testing requirements.
Treviño and Saenz said that it is becoming harder to attract young applicants for police work. And that has made it harder for the BPD to fill vacancies.
Treviño said city voters were asked to approve Civil Service at a time when some members of the City Council were putting pressure on BPD officers.
Civil Service protects officers from political pressures by allowing the three-member commission to review disciplinary actions taken against them.
“The advantages are that everybody has an equal chance,” Treviño said of the Civil Service system. The program also controls the way officers are promoted by requiring that the officers who score higher on promotion tests get the positions.
Also, Civil Service requires an officer to spend at least two years at each level before being considered for promotion.
Cardenas asked if the commissioners could support the chief and his officers in efforts to obtain higher pay and better benefits.
Saenz said they could do so, but only as individuals and not as a commission.
Treviño said the top two reasons for his patrolman to seek jobs with other departments are salary and the cost of getting health insurance for their family members.
City Manager Tom Ginter said the cost of including a family member on the city’s health insurance is so high that only two employees at City Hall take advantage of that opportunity.
Saenz said calling an election to decide the BPD’s Civil Service issue would require a petition drive and 10 percent of the city’s registered voters would be required to sign it.
He said that would amount to about 900 signatures. Getting that many signatures on a petition in time for the city’s May City Council election would be difficult. For that reason, supporters of abolishing the program would probably have to wait until November to have an election called.
Treviño said he had been asked twice by a council member to see about getting the issue before the voters. He said he agreed, adding that whatever the voters wish, he would accept.
However, Treviño said he would like to see something done on a local level to assure that city officers are not subjected to political problems.
Saenz said a city ordinance would not serve that purpose. If the City Council has the power to pass such an ordinance, it also has the power to repeal it.
Saenz said that with Civil Service gone, only an amendment to the city charter could provide that kind of protection for the police department.