The first 10 months of 2022 saw a nearly 12% increase in crime in San Antonio compared to the same time frame last year, with a rise in homicides leading the way.
Homicides jumped 67% compared to the same 10-month period last year, including the 53 migrants who died inside a sweltering truck in June, Assistant Chief of Police Karen Falks told City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.
From January to October 2021, SAPD recorded 126 homicides. This year, it tallied 210. Even without counting the migrant deaths, homicides were up by almost 25%.
Property crimes were up 15%, while crimes against society, such as animal cruelty, drugs and prostitution, were up almost 8%. Crimes against people were up 4%.
Within that category, assaults rose almost 5%, to 28,542. Sex offenses were similar to last year, with 1,796 reported in 2022 versus 1,785 the year before. Non-forcible sex offenses, which involve people who do not have the capacity to consent under the law, dropped 87% to just 16 offenses from 126 last year.
“This is very sobering,” Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) said.
The FBI’s annual crime report for 2021 shows a national 1% decrease in violent crime overall, while homicides increased by 4%. However, only 63% of the country’s police departments submitted data, making comparison difficult.
Falks attributed some of the local uptick to an increase in residents reporting crimes. Technology, especially phone and doorbell cameras, has helped people report crimes, she said. “People are flooding us with videos, which we encourage.”
Reported stolen property crimes increased 358%, while burglary/breaking and motor vehicle theft each rose about 30%.
The theft of catalytic converters from cars is a new trend, she said. “That has shot through the roof, and that’s something that we haven’t seen before.”
The converters are relatively easy to steal and contain three precious metals — rhodium, palladium and platinum — that can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market.
Prostitution reports dropped by almost 60%, while weapons law violations increased by almost 38%. Animal cruelty cases were up 31%, while drug offenses were up 8%.
This is the first year the city has monthly crime data to compare using a relatively new and more thorough reporting system, National Incidents Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Previously, SAPD and most law enforcement agencies across the country were using Uniformed Crime Reports (UCR) to report crime statistics to the FBI.
The UCR system allowed only the most severe of seven offense categories in any given incident to be reported, meaning if a rape occurs during a killing, only the homicide is reported. Crime therefore inherently went underreported.
NIBRS allows up to 10 offenses to be recorded out of a single incident and captures data on 49 different offenses. It groups those into crimes against people, society and property.
NIBRS also collects demographic information — including race, age and sex — about the assailant and the victim, the relationship between the two (if they’re family members, married, strangers, etc.), and where and when the crime took place. SAPD did not report that information Wednesday.
Under the UCR system, local law enforcement departments could choose how to classify certain crimes, so not only was it underreporting crime, the statistics could not be accurately compared to other cities, which may have classified crimes differently.
“The goal [of NIBRS] is to be able to standardize how law enforcement agencies across the country are reporting those numbers to the public,” said Deputy City Manager María Villagómez.
Falks also updated the committee on a pilot program aimed at reducing violent crime in “micro hotspots” across the city.
SAPD identified 60 hotspots — seven-block areas where at least five violent crimes had occurred within three months — to deploy more police and increase visibility this year.
Overall, those areas saw a 52% decrease in reported violent crime during the three-month periods of increased deployments, Falks said.
“We met with UTSA professors and we kind of showed them what we were doing,” Falks told the committee “They were quite surprised that we had such great results.”
The city hired the University of Texas in San Antonio last year to perform that study and come up with recommendations for the plan. The city’s 2023 budget includes 50 new officers who would be tasked with carrying out the recommendations.
It’s still unclear if the increased police presence within the hotspots led to increased violent criminal activity in other areas.
“We don’t actually know the answer to that,” Capt. Jesse Salame told the San Antonio Report. “That’s a criticism that some folks will have: that all we’re doing is sort of moving things around. But our argument to that is that we’re targeting … specific areas where those crimes are the highest and we’re targeting specific people because the vast majority of crime that we’re seeing is committed by a small amount of the same people.”
Resources for the hotspot pilot program will now pivot towards SAPD’s holiday vehicle theft task force for the season, but will likely be revamped and return next year, pending UTSA’s violent crime study.
San Antonio Fire Department calls are also up across the board, for medical and non-medical related calls, Fire Chief Charles Hood told the committee.
The city saw a quarter more structure fires in fiscal year 2022, which ended in October, and almost double the number of brush and grass fires — averaging about eight a day — due to dangerous dry conditions from the ongoing drought and the hottest summer on record.
“When you drive down the road and see burned-out patches of grass on the freeway, someone’s thrown a cigarette out,” Hood said. “Those continue to increase at an alarming rate.”
Since 2014, medical incidents have increased by 36% and non-medical incidents by 97%. Most of the increase are due to population increases, Hood said, but non-medical incidents include providing assistance to police.
A piece of Texas’ George Floyd Act requires police to call ambulances for injured people during arrests or other situations. In 2021, SAFD responded to an average of 16 calls per day to assist police; this year it was closer to 22.