Inside the SMPD with Police Chief Stan Standridge
The San Marcos Daily Record interviewed San Marcos Police Chief Stan Standridge about the department itself and requests for police reform. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Starting Point: Chief offers an apology.
I always begin with apology. I apologize on behalf of my chosen profession, because I believe there have been historical and current abuses, by my profession, across this nation.
So, we have to be rooted in apology. If I look at the historical alienation of African Americans by American law enforcement, it's horrendous. It's, it's embarrassing. So, I begin with apology.
My wife and I—her name is Beth, we went to, through a 10-week program here in San Marcos. called Be the Bridge. And it's about racial reconciliation. And it was a difficult 10 weeks, but it was a growing 10 weeks.
So, I recognize historically and even contemporarily, there have been abuses. You don't have to look at it any further than Memphis. With that said, I'll say this and just hear me through this. When we stop hearing about police misconduct, that's the day I'm going to retire. Because that means it's so commonplace, it's no longer newsworthy. We're not there. In my opinion, America still trust and believe in the principles of professional policing. They have not given up. That's evidenced by the fact that police misconduct is still so widely and repeatedly communicated. To me, that's a sign of continued trust, community trust. And I want to drill down now to San Marcos. I believe the vast majority of San Marcos appreciates, trusts, and relies on the San Marcos Police Department.
Q: Describe the personnel size of the department and where officers commonly reside?
Authorized: 115 sworn officers. 45 civilian staff who are not directly affected by the Meet and Confer negotiations. Approximately 40 volunteers. Residence: 1/3 San Marcos, 1/3 New Braunfels and 1/3 Kyle.
Q: What is the minimum age to join the SMPD You have to be 21 in Texas to be licensed as a peace officer. So, you're not going to find an 18 or 19 year old at any academy, because by law, they can't be licensed until 21.
Q: Will there be requests in the Meet and Confer for salary increases?
It’s one of the things that will be negotiated for. … I’ve got to leave that pretty generic and just simply say that I hope that we can negotiate for a successful agreement that meets the needs of the citizens, the city and the police officers.
Q: Explain your position on the attitude by many activists who oppose third party arbitration and favor a Civil Service Commission approach?
This one is interesting because they [activists] want to end the third party hearing examiner model that's established by law. But we prevailed. (when this process was used in Officer Hartman's arbitration.) … I would understand the frustration if the city had not prevailed. But we prevailed. So there's some irony there that they want to overturn a system. That in fact, we prevailed.
Q: Respond to criticism that the department has a 'culture of impunity' as an article by KSAT TV said.
Don't you find it terribly ironic, that they [activists] claim there's a culture of impunity against the backdrop, against the evidence of multiple officers suspensions and terminations? If, in fact, there was a culture of impunity, there wouldn't be any public release of records of terminations and suspensions, because we would be impugn. … I find that just remarkable grandstanding.
Q: Of the five Hartman reforms under discussion, why is talk of ending the 180-Day Rule for statute of limitations of keen interest for you?
Which one really stands out as a potential, what I'm going to call, benefit to the citizens. … I’m going to talk about the [call to] end the 180-day rule. That's what they [activists] want. They want to end the 180-day rule. Under the current agreement that was negotiated last year, and it's in existence right now, we doubled the 180 days [to 360]. Remember, that 180 days is codified in state law. We all agreed, even the association agreed, that’s not sufficient. Let's double the amount that the state legislature allows. So we said 180 days from date of discovery, and then another 180 days to investigate and dispose of. If there were a culture of impunity, would the association ever have agreed to double the state law? No, there’s no way.
Q: Compare to other years officer candidates available to SMPD?
I would dare say that every generation looks to the next generation with some level of derision.
I would dare say the generation before me looked at my generation and said, you know, the nation is going to hell in a hand basket. So, I'm really careful to never classify people. I believe that there are exceptional people in every age generation. And our goal is to find those people and hire them. So I would rather look at the process tag, “How do you then discern who that person is?” It's about a 20-month process–it’s just shy of two years [becoming an officer]. From time of recruiting to the time they’re actually done and out of the training pipeline. Just shy of two years. They have to undergo a minimum of 40hour background investigation. They have to do a polygraph–polygraph is pass or fail. They have to go through an oral board. They have to have a medical examination, a drug screening. Then they have to pass a 1000-hour police academy, then a six-week long mini-academy here at our department. And then another … 20 weeks of crushing field training with veteran officers. And then they're on probation for 18 months. It is incredibly stressful. And I believe that the process, you know, how do you get at ‘silver’? Well, you have to introduce heat, adversity, you have to remove the dross. That's what this process does. This process refines these young people into professional peace officers. And I think the process works well. And when it, when we fail, we either terminate employment or we suspend. And if you look at–I can only vouch for the last two years–if you look at the last two years, there's ample evidence that that has occurred.
Q: There is some criticism that Sgt. Ryan Hartman was not fired for the fatal car crash or two incidents investigated involving tasing an individual. In the end he was fired for paperwork problems.
… When I first got here, mind you, this incident [the off-duty vehicular fatality] occurred in June 2020. So my first day here was Nov. 16, 2020. I didn't have a clue who Ryan Hartman was. In the ensuing weeks, really, for the next six months, I would speak to the Lockhart Police Department frequently. I actually read the Lockhart Police Department's report. I think the Lockhart Police Department did a phenomenally thorough investigation and presented it for prosecution. I am surprised that Ryan Hartman was not indicted. … I start there. Now moving forward. He comes back to work. And he has his first incident of which I'm the chief now, of the tasing of a citizen. Our system that we [implemented], and this is really important, because you have to look at, organizationally, what are you doing to catch misconduct? We implemented what's called ERB–Event Review Board. The event review board reviews, every use of force, every pursuit, every crash, and every significant event or injury. In other words, we inspect what we expect. That's how I became aware of Ryan Hartman using a taser against the citizen, that a subsequent investigation showed was excessive force. Now with that said, that was his very first, to my knowledge, excessive force complaint in his entire career. All of his previous misconduct stemmed from off-duty behavior that did not result in an indictment. So when you then have a second allegation of misconduct, and yes, I can see that it was associated with — everyone wants to dismiss it as paperwork, but I would remind everybody, one of those paperwork failures was associated with a homicide. And it delayed the filing of that homicide with the district attorney's office by almost six months. That is absolutely unacceptable. And for those reasons, I believed he should have been terminated. And he was. So it's to me, it's not just paperwork. He got fired because of paperwork. No, I believe those allegations were very serious in nature. And they did necessitate his termination.
Q: In 2023, how would you describe the morale of your officers and staff?
The officers are admittedly frustrated, because they do not believe they have a voice. They believe that the voice of the local activists is the only voice being heard. … So they would like a level of objectivity. And they would like citizens to actually review the evidence. And then they probably would most love for the non-vocal majority to be more vocal.
… And then they hire this brash young police chief, who institutes a culture of accountability. And it took oh, about a year, for us to learn how to dance. The Event Review Board was not immediately appreciated or favored. Now, looking back, every one of them see the value of that ERB. And they all would tell you that, we believe right now we have a very accountable police department in spite of the community narrative, because nobody's looking at the actual evidence.
Q: What was the mindset of the department prior to and during the Hartman incidents and beyond?
I want you to understand the history here. As I have learned, in 2017, they [the department] had their first line of duty deaths due to gunfire. Ken Copeland. … In 2017, he was killed during a domestic violence warrant in San Marcos. In 2019 Officer Claudia Cormier was struck on I-35 and immediately had a high, right leg amputation. … She also suffered massive trauma and when I got here, she still had not returned to work. The next year, they had three more officers shot. One, Justin Putnam, is killed immediately. [Officer Justin R. Putnam, Badge 442, was killed April 22, 2020 in an ambush during a domestic violence call]. Two other officers are also struck by gunfire repeatedly. Neither of them had returned to work when I got here. The very next month–so, we're still in 2020. Paul Beller is struck on I-35. … And we had to retire him in 2021. He'll never be a cop again. … The following month, now we're into June 2020. That's when Ryan Hartman kills the woman off-duty. … To say that there has been a manifestation of internal trauma, you can't overstate that. My biggest surprise and I didn't learn this until Nov.17, 2020 ... it's my second day. And I am meeting in this conference room here, it's my first command staff meeting. …They still had not buried Putnum. … I asked the obvious question, where is his body and I learned that he had been cremated. But because of all of the trauma manifestation, and because of COVID, they still had not done any type of a memorial or funeral. … This department has felt physically attacked. And now they feel like they are being politically attacked. And they just want to know who has our voice.
Q: Explain your understanding of the reform discussion connected to the choice between a suspension or forfeiture of vacation, holiday pay?
… I’m going to actually give you an example. Let's say officer A is going to be suspended for 40 hours. I'm going to say theoretically that 40 hours is $1,000. It's going to be actually more than that, but let's just say for right now, 40 hours suspension is going to be 1000 … Now the officers can say, well, I cannot afford to lose … $1,000 out of this coming paycheck. Can I forfeit my vacation accruals and if they do … they dismiss, they waive their right to appeal. So you can do this, you can take a hard suspension, you'll lose $1,000. Agree? Or you can waive appeal and forfeit vacation. … When human resources goes into their accruals, they're still taking out $1,000. The officer still has a net loss of $1000. If anything, it's to their disadvantage to do it this way. Why? Because let's say they work another five years, when they get ready to get paid out, any remaining vacation accruals–that $1,000 is now probably worth at least $1,500 in that currency five years from now. … The citizens have got to understand it's pay now, or pay later, regardless … they’re paying. The net effect is still a loss of their salary. Some people say they need a cooling off period. Okay, there's probably some value to that. Here's the issue. Let's say we allow this officer to cool off. Well, that's 40 hours that they're not at work. Guess what I have to do. I have to pay overtime to cover those 40 hours. Plus, remember, they didn't forfeit their vacation. Now, they appeal. … The average appeal right now is $50,000. So my mathematical question to the citizens of San Marcos is simple. Do you want to pay $50,000 plus the overtime to replace the 40? Or do you want to recognize the officers are losing their pay, regardless?
Q: What do you mean by a culture of suspension in law enforcement.
I will tell you that the culture of suspension here in the San Marcos police department … it is a huge deal to be suspended. It's embarrassing. There's internal levels of accountability, because everybody's frustrated that you embarrassed the police department. There’s … embarrassment within the community, because ultimately, all of these records are then disclosed. … These officers’ kids go to schools. The kids are then talking about what their Mom or Dad did at work. Because it's all known.
Q: What is outlook for the department in the days ahead?
… We have an assessment center. It's a one to two day process where it assesses your capability of doing the job that you're applying for. One of the things that I'm looking forward to in Meet and Confer negotiations is we're going to negotiate for a performance review, to be part of the assessment. And importantly, to be a graded part of the assessment. The performance review would go back if we are successful in negotiating this, go back two years, and review your good and any potential bad conduct. So that's where suspensions or reprimands or commendations or awards will come into play, and it will now be part of your overall grade because Stan believes the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. … I am hopeful that we will pass a great meet and confer agreement that includes a performance review, to ensure that we promote the best people.
I would say that I am excited about 2023 and San Marcos. We have a laser beam focus on reducing violent crime. We are leveraging technology at an unprecedented pace. We will be submitting a comprehensive multiyear staffing plan to city management this month, actually April, I should say. And so I look at 2023 as full of promise.