“If it bleeds, it leads,” but that doesn’t mean the East Side sees more crime than other parts of San Antonio, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said Thursday. McManus was referring to local news coverage of the East Side that he said painted an inaccurate picture of the area.

San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE) hosted a public safety panel Thursday at the AT&T Center, where McManus joined San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood and Ronald Bennett, assistant deputy chief at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. The three answered questions about their community outreach and opinions of the East Side’s crime levels. 

McManus said that no part of San Antonio is more crime-prone than others, no matter what people might believe. He attributed a significant portion of that belief to news coverage, from which he said most people form their opinions about the East Side.  

“The East Side for years has been stigmatized as being labeled as one of the most violent areas of the city, and I’ll tell you that’s not true,” he said. 

San Antonio saw a 16 percent decrease in crime across the city at the end of 2018, in part due to the Violent Crimes Task Force’s work, McManus said. The task force started in 2017 after an uptick in recorded violent crime.

“We [also] measured the crime by the council district,” he said. “And … Council District 2 experienced a 19 percent decrease in crime, the highest decrease of any council district in the city. Don’t make any mistake about it. There is crime in every area of the city, not just the East Side.”

Hood added that the fire department gets calls every day from every part of the city, and the East Side does not have significantly more emergencies than other areas.

“It’s a very busy district, no emergent trends we see, but this is a very, very busy city every day,” he said.

Though Hood, McManus, and Bennett all said they did not have specific programs that were only provided to the East Side, they said all of their agencies recruited in the area and tried to promote community engagement with residents. McManus pointed to San Antonio Fear Free Environment (SAFFE) officers who work with residents directly on quality of life concerns and regular email updates sent to interested parties as examples of SAPD’s community outreach.

Bennett agreed sharing information about each agency’s operations is crucial.

“If you don’t understand what we do on a day-to-day basis, how are you supposed to engage with us or help us help you?” Bennett asked. 

Hood added that the fire department has invested around $36 million over the last nine years in infrastructure for the East Side.

“We have built infrastructure to add resources to this area of town, which includes a new ambulance and platform truck,” he said. “We’ve invested more money on the East Side than any other area in the city, as far as infrastructure.”

SAGE President and CEO Tuesdaé Knight said the nonprofit – which works to promote and encourage businesses on the East Side and improve quality of life for all residents in the area – wanted to convene a community meeting with public safety leaders to dispel any myths that the East Side was an unsafe place to be. She agreed with McManus that sensationalized headlines about crime on the East Side influence public opinion of the area.

“We have 2,000 businesses on the East Side that we support,” Knight said. “We need people to understand it is safe to come here because it will help their businesses thrive. … Having information that is accurate helps dispel rumors and stigmas about the East Side.”

McManus said, for as long as he can remember, the East Side has been mischaracterized as having one of the highest crime rates in the city.

“No matter how much progress we make, that stigma seems to be hard to shake,” McManus said. “I think it’s long overdue that the stigma is erased.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.