Want to stay in the loop regarding crime in your neighborhood? The San Antonio Police Department is asking residents to text “SAPD” to 39987 so it can send you text message updates.

In an effort to reach more people, SAPD announced a text notification system that can alert people about crime in their area.

“We have the law enforcement part of policing down,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said in a Tuesday news conference. “We want to expand our ability to communicate with everybody out there that’s interested in being communicated with.”

McManus said the idea germinated a few months ago during a staff meeting when they were discussing ways to communicate with the public more broadly. The police department worked with law enforcement technology company SPIDR Tech to develop the text system. 

“The amount of information that we can put out … is beyond anything I’ve ever seen in policing,” he said.

The text notification system builds on SAPD’s efforts to better connect with the community. Another part of that effort was a planned “Safety Summit,” to connect community members to more city services around issues such as domestic violence and renters assistance. The summit was being planned in conjunction with WestCare Foundation, a family of nonprofits that works to provide a variety of health and human services.

Originally scheduled for Aug. 14, the summit has been postponed as coronavirus cases increase, McManus said.

The text notification system addresses the communication barrier raised by the digital divide in San Antonio, said Beverly Watts Davis, chief operating officer for WestCare, who participated in Tuesday’s news conference alongside McManus and District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, who chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Once subscribed, the San Antonio Police Department can pinpoint alerts based on a provided zip-code. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Many residents do not have access to the internet, whether it be through broadband internet at home or through a phone data plan, and therefore cannot access websites. But with the new SAPD system, anyone with a cell phone can get updates via text message.

“We have a lot of people who need this, who need to know what’s going on, but they have no way to get on the web,” Davis said. Now, you can text that number and then be connected.”

SAPD had already worked with SPIDR Tech to help police officers contact people via text before arriving at a scene with instructions on how to maintain social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, McManus said. While the company is working with other cities’ law enforcement agencies to implement text systems, San Antonio would be the first city to go live with it, he said.

The police department, which began signing people up for text alerts last month, has already enrolled 70,000 people. Notifications will include any information the police department thinks the public may be interested in, McManus said.

When signing up for text alerts, individuals will be asked to provide their ZIP code, which allows the system to send relevant crime information about their area. There is no way to further tailor the text notifications, however — everyone who signs up will receive all texts that SAPD sends to subscribers in that ZIP code, plus whichever city-wide texts the department sends out.

“When you opt in, you’ll get information on crime trends in your area, safety tips, updates on critical incidents, surveys to solicit feedback on a number of public safety topics, upcoming community events, and much more,” McManus said.

For now, McManus estimates that the police department will push two to three text updates to subscribers each week.

SAPD also postponed its first “San Antonio Neighbors Together” event scheduled for Aug. 7 due to rising coronavirus case rates, McManus said. That initiative will replace San Antonio’s participation in National Night Out events, and aims to grow community and law enforcement relationships.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.