After an hour of impassioned and occasionally tearful public testimonies, the Bexar County Commissioners Court approved a budget today that cuts 19 deputy constable positions, half of the originally proposed 38.
“Thirty‐eight Deputy Constable positions are recommended to be deleted for a savings of $2.7 million,” County Manager David L. Smith wrote.
Supporters of the budget interpreted the action as a movement towards defunding the police, an action many said would make Bexar County safer.
“There’s an opportunity before you to defund policing and fund civic life,” said Isabella Briseño, an organizer at Texas Rising, a group that registers voters and “promotes equality and social justice.”
“Defund the sheriff’s office, invest in Bexar County.”
Briseño, like many supporters of the proposal, asked the court to reallocate the saved funds to election administration and public health measures, especially with regards to COVID-19 and mental health, saying “investing in society” would reduce crime.
Isabella Nieta, a student leader with Texas Rising, said she “cannot stress how important it is to reinvest in our communities and divest money away from the sheriff’s office.”
“Reinvesting in community needs acts as a preventative measure for crime,” Nieta said. “This is common sense. An investment in the community means there is little need for a sheriff’s office.”
All present constables urged the court to reject the budget, saying that savings could be found elsewhere.
“Not a single occupied position outside of law enforcement was offered up [to be cut],” Constable Mark Vojvodich said, calling the budget a “dumpster fire.”
“The Texas Legislature allowed Bexar County to ignore the property tax cap… That’s what the legislature provided you, the decision-makers, to do your jobs,” Vojvodich continued.
Some citizens joined them. Guillermo Gamez, a repossession agent who said he also volunteered with at-risk youths on the south side of San Antonio, called the defunding efforts “ridiculous” and said the activists who supported the budget lack the firsthand knowledge he has gained.
“The south side is actually coming up… If you even plan to take away one officer, one constable from us, it’s taking tens of thousands of steps back,” Gamez said. “But for you guys or whoever is thinking of defunding any one of these constables, it’s ridiculous… If you want something about mental illness, I can look something up about that on the internet all day and shoot it in your face, but none of them have done what I have done.”
Corporal Adam Salazar from the Bexar County Constable Precinct 1 Office said that constables’ offices enforce civil as well as criminal law and emphasized that supporters of the budget should understand distinctions between different law enforcement offices.
“What I want to get at is not all officers are the same. We specialize in a certain area,” Salazar said. “If you look up our shootings, hardly any here in the constable’s office. Anything that you associate with what a bad cop is, it’s very low over here.”
Salazar went on to call for a “truce” between officers and the activists who showed in support of the budget, accusing the media of “trying to cause division.”
“The media’s not being friendly. I don’t see KENS5 over here,” he said. “The media’s going to be out there, and they’re going to be stirring up things that are not so.”
The commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the budget, with Commissioner Tommy Calvert (D-Prct. 4), “saddened that we’re so pitted against each other,” shying from political heat and opposing the budget.
“For my friends from [Black Lives Matter]… There are many different forms of law enforcement, and they do different things,” Calvert said. “I am for keeping the staffing levels of the constable’s office because they are on the civil side. They are the most community-oriented law enforcement that we have… I’m so sorry that we’ve had to come at each other’s throats and necks over this.”
County Judge Nelson W. Wolff (D), Commissioner Sergio Rodriguez (D-Prct. 1), Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (D-Prct. 2), and Commissioner Kevin Wolff (R-Prct. 3) voted for the budget.
Kevin Wolff insisted that the cuts served purely economic purposes.
“The fact of the matter is we have gross inefficiencies, not just in our constable’s office but in our sheriff’s office and in other offices. That’s what we’re trying to address here,” he said. “I can definitely tell you that the calls for cuts to constables and other areas in order to balance our budget was not done with the thought in mind of taking away from law enforcement or reacting to a demand to take away law enforcement… You can hear it’s about BLM, it’s about defunding law enforcement, but I’m telling you it’s about the facts of what dollars we have to spend regardless.”
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