The City of San Antonio has a new, specialized section within its health department aimed at preventing violence and healing trauma.
The Violence Prevention Section will serve as a hub for current and future initiatives addressing gun violence, domestic violence, and child and youth violence.
“Our vision is to stop violence from happening before it starts by building equitable, empowered communities who can heal past harms and grow safe futures,” said Jennifer Hixon, violence prevention manager for the City’s Metropolitan Health District.
The section will unify work done by the City and groups such as the South Texas Trauma-Informed Care Consortium, Communities in Schools-San Antonio, and the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence.
“Violence is a leading cause of premature death in our community,” Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said in a statement. “The new section places violence prevention on equal footing with other important contributors to the health and safety of our community.”
This year, the City shifted 20 civilian positions, equalling $1.3 million, from the San Antonio Police Department to the new division. These crisis response specialists still work closely with SAPD, but their relocation will support a more integrated approach to violence prevention, Hixon told City Council members on Wednesday.
The new division includes various programs and initiatives totaling about $9.5 million, Hixon said.
“That’s a small drop in the bucket for what we need to be spending on this,” said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7). “How much does [SAPD] spend in responding to violence? … We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Nearly 160 people in San Antonio died of homicide in 2019, according to the City, and 27 of those were considered family violence. There were 5,373 confirmed cases of child abuse.
“We also lost 261 people to suicide, which is something that a lot of the times we don’t include in this discussion of violence,” Hixon said. “But it is part of what we consider violent deaths.”
The City is also expanding its Stand Up SA program from part-time operations on the East Side to full-time and adding West Side and hospital-based teams. The program deploys violence interrupters who are from those neighborhoods and have experienced violence to heal trauma and prevent retaliation violence once an incident has occurred, Hixon said.
“[The program model] is based in thinking about violence as a communicable disease,” she said. “When one person experiences violence in a community, the violence spreads around that incident because we know that most violence is interpersonal – so it happens with people that you know.
Stopping violence is similar to stopping a pandemic in this way, she said. Case investigation involves finding out who they’ve come into contact with and providing mediation, counseling, and connections to other resources such as housing or health care.
The City is rolling out awareness campaigns targeted at people who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse because “we know [violence] will increase during the holidays – that’s something that typically happens,” Hixon said. “If you are experiencing violence, there is help out there.”
Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) took issue with one of the proposed advertisements. The image featured a frowning gingerbread person with a broken arm.
“I think we need to be very sensitive with domestic violence,” said Rocha Garcia, who teaches marketing courses at Our Lady of the Lake University. “I thought it was entirely insensitive and it also implies that people who are affected by domestic violence can not be repaired anymore. … One of the first things I tell my students in class is if one person is offended, you don’t run it – because that’s one person too many.”
The marketing materials are created in consultation with the Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence and other advocates, Hixon said.
City Manager Erik Walsh said he received a similar comment and said that particular graphic will be reviewed again.