Though Bexar County’s new center for booking and processing arrestees is up and running, the San Antonio Police Department still has reservations about relocating its own processing operations there.
The County in December completed construction of the new $33 million Justice Intake and Assessment Annex that would serve arrestees from all public safety agencies in Bexar County.
At the City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus acknowledged that his department eventually will have to move its processing operations at the Frank D. Wing Municipal Court Building once the University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown expansion plan enters its second phase. But McManus repeated concerns cited last year when SAPD said it would not use the new annex in the South Tower of the Bexar County Jail.
Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, who was recently named finalist in the search for San Antonio’s new city manager, summed up the police department’s main concerns: the new facility would cause police officers to spend more time booking arrestees, does not accept those detained for low-level misdemeanors or public inebriation, and lacks space and parking for officers booking prisoners.
The new annex was designed with an “open booking” concept, where people brought to the jail can sit in an open area rather than a holding cell. It also includes the magistrate’s facility, which processes arrests made by Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies, local municipalities, and police departments of the other 26 cities within Bexar County. SAPD officers make more than 60 percent of all arrests in the county.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he met with Mayor Ron Nirenberg Tuesday to resolve the impasse and move toward a solution.
“His objective is to get the deal done,” Wolff said. “We have to work out some of the kinks and stuff. I think it’s going to move forward.”
Wolff said members of the Public Safety Committee would tour the new processing facility. There they would see that the County’s “system is twice as big” as the City’s current one at Frank D. Wing, where the County previously processed its arrestees. Wolf also noted that SAPD officers have to bring all arrestees to the Justice Intake and Assessment Annex before they can be taken the Bexar County Jail since the City doesn’t have its own jail.
“We’re having no problems,” Wolff said. “Open booking is working fine. We’re handling every prisoner, including the City’s prisoners. Once they go through their process, they bring them to us.”
McManus said going through the County’s processing center requires officers to accompany arrested individuals for longer periods of time, thus decreasing the number of officers in the field. He said he received an officer complaint detailing the “nightmare of taking the prisoner over to the County’s facility, because they got hung up for over two hours.”
“That remains a concern, and the County has yet to address it,” McManus said, adding that at Frank D. Wing, officers hand over arrestees to detention guards and return to patrolling the streets.
The police department also found that using the County facility could cost the City $4.8 million due to officers spending additional time at the processing center, SAPD Deputy Chief Robert Blanton said.
Blanton told committee members that SAPD currently spends the least amount of moeny per arrestee compared to other major cities in Texas, mainly because the City does not pay the County for processing. Using the City’s current processing center costs about $131 per arrestee, Blanton said, while using the County facility would increase the cost per arrested person to $269.
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) voiced concern that SAPD was not more “intimately involved” in designing the County’s processing center.
“If we were to have sat with the County and walked through issues we had before they built” the new center, some of these problems could have been avoided, Saldaña said.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said regardless of the impetus, the City needs a new place to efficiently process its arrestees.
“Frank Wing is outdated,” Brockhouse said. “We want the best facility, the best process, and we want the officer back on the street as quickly as possible. This is a massive public safety issue, and public safety rises to the No. 1 issue that City Council is responsible for.”
Brockhouse also criticized the committee’s leadership and lack of communication with the County.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who now chairs the committee following former District 2 Councilman Cruz Shaw’s departure, apologized for the County’s absence. She did, however, speak to Wolff and County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2), she said, who would be taking the lead for the County on this issue going forward.
Walsh said City staff has been given 60 days to review a proposal to use the County’s new annex, which addresses eight of the City’s concerns, including adequate staffing to prevent delaying SAPD officers during processing, making the courtroom for bail hearings bigger, and allowing Class C misdemeanor and public intoxication arrests to be processed at the center.