Two officers from the Sweetwater police department, who were fired a day after new Mayor Orlando López took office, will be reinstated.
El Nuevo Herald’s sources confirmed that new Police Chief Plácido Díaz met with officers Ihoshvany Garciga and Ernesto Barquín on June 11 to tell them they would be rehired by the department. Díaz reviewed both officers’ records and determined they “were clean,” a source said.
Garciga and Barquín, who were full-time employees, were fired on May 16 along with another 12 officers, in a decision that caused friction between the new mayor and the majority of the city commission. Many commissioners considered the firings as arbitrary and on June 1, six of the seven commissioners voted in favor of bringing back the officers to reevaluate them.
But at first, the police department only brought back seven part-time officers. In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Garciga and Barquín, who were put on probation because they were recently hired as full-time officers, said they didn’t know why they were fired.
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The controversy dragged out for almost three weeks, during which the police chief and the mayor offered vague explanations for the firings. López initially said the officers were ineffective and that they were selected by a committee, but declined to name any members. Meanwhile, Díaz said the department is trying to cut back on expenses.
Barquín and Garciga each earn $60,000 in salary and benefits.
Altogether, 15 Sweetwater police officers were let go because the city needs to cut back on expenses to avoid a financial crisis, López said.
“The current budget is not manageable,” López said Friday.
“The city has been exhausting its reserves for a long time, and that, along with debts and projected expenditures, has caused financial problems,” said López, adding the city has to cut back on expenses made by the police department.
Of the $17.5 million city budget, $7.7 million are designated for the police department, which has 40 full-time officers, about 20 part-time officers and more than 60 reserve officers.
According to López — who also made budget cuts on SWAT resources, the two municipal helicopters and the mounted police — the police department is one of the few that could quickly lead the city into bankruptcy.
Other financial problems derive from financial obligations, both current and project, in the city, such as pitching in to employee pensions required by the collective bargaining agreement with the Police Benevolent Association.
The city currently owes about $300,000 in police pensions.
“The city accepted a contract that was very favorable for the PBA and the officers, but not so favorable for the city. We are contributing too much on pensions,” López said.
Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar.