San Antonio Police Chief William McManus announced a new policing initiative Wednesday to combat violent crime throughout San Antonio, which he said has increased by 9.2% over the past year.

The Violent Crime Task Force Initiative, officially set in motion on Jan. 2, was created specifically to address the uptick in violent crime, McManus said after he shared the results of the 2016 public safety progress report with the City’s Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services committee.

Under the initiative, the police will combine intelligence and analytics to deploy a group of covert SAPD units working with the Sheriff’s department, the District Attorney’s office, and federal partners to target individuals who “have and are committing violent crimes” such as murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, McManus said.

He said the police will focus on people “who engage in high-risk behavior” and are typically, though not limited to, gang members, drug dealers and users, and prostitutes.

“We don’t want to over-police,” McManus said, “… so we’ve got our intelligence detectives pulling information on who we need to target.”

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus presents his year in review statistics.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus presents his year in review statistics. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In the past, SAPD units targeted certain areas of town to address crime. Last year, for example, SAPD focused on policing the Eastside, and “took a lot of guns off the streets, we took a lot of drugs off the street, and [violent] individuals off the street through arrests,” McManus said.  But he said it was hard to tell whether the effort actually reduced violent crime in the area.

McManus said he believes that pursuing individuals will be a more efficient way to address any level of violent crime.

“If we’re able to arrest the right individuals, it helps us keep a lid on the violence more so than just staying in the area and just pounding it and pounding it and pounding it through saturation,” he said.

The new crime initiative will include covert SAPD units such as the Repeat Offender Program unit, the narcotics squad, and the vice unit, but not patrol officers, McManus said. This will ensure that broadening the department’s focus throughout the entire city will not decrease levels of patrol service in certain areas, he said.

According to McManus’ 2016 public safety report presentation, which can be viewed here, murders in San Antonio increased by 46.2% from 2015 to 2016.

McManus said it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why there has been an increase in violent crime, but a lot of such crimes are drug- and gang-related, officials said.

“The safety of every resident, of course, is my top priority as well as [that of] my City Council colleagues,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said, “and we have to make every effort that we can to effectively address violence in the streets and in our homes.”

Other preliminary numbers for the year that McManus reported Wednesday showed a 5% increase in property crimes, a 2% decrease in sexual assaults, a 4% decrease in burglaries, a 6% reduction in homelessness, a 6% decrease in vehicle burglaries, and a 6% reduction in theft.

Other positive numbers showed a decrease in SAPD’s abandoned emergency call rate and a significant increase in the number of emergency calls answered within 10 seconds.

The City and SAPD have implemented a number of programs and initiatives to ensure public safety, Taylor said, including the Group Violence Intervention program, a pilot program that aims to reduce violent crime and strengthen relations between SAPD and community, and the mayor’s police-community relations committee.

SAPD has deployed more than 2,000 body-worn cameras to all of its substations, and will deploy more to the rest of the patrol officers in February, McManus said.

SAPD also received a human trafficking grant that provides the department and the Rape Crisis Center with additional resources to proactively identify victims and prosecute offenders. SAPD’s collaboration with the community on enhancing public safety throughout the city and community policing efforts, McManus said, have gained the department national recognition.

“It takes a community to address this violence that’s happening in our city,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who chairs the Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services committee.

McManus acknowledged that reducing the homicide rate goes far beyond policing efforts, since “there are social and economic conditions that play into all of this.” But the department’s push to experiment with new policing methods and increase collaboration with the community may help make a difference, he said.

“We can’t enforce or arrest this issue away,” McManus said. “… We can’t just sit back and do nothing different. We have to do something different, [and] at least try it.”

Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com