This story has been updated.
To improve response times and reduce crime, a consultant recommends the San Antonio Police Department hire 360 new patrol officers over the next several years, including 100 in 2024.
An additional 100 officers would be the largest annual increase in recent history and cost about $12.4 million, some of which could be covered by a federal grant, city officials said.
City Council will consider the recommendation as part of the city’s fiscal year 2024 budget negotiations. Wednesday’s review, which included the budget implications of a program meant to address properties that attract crime and complaints, kicked off that process, which will run through summer.
The budget is slated for adoption in September and would go into effect Oct. 1.
Weiss Consulting performed the staffing analysis of SAPD, and suggested that adding 360 new officers over 3-5 years would allow officers to spend roughly 40% of their time responding to 911 calls and 60% proactively patrolling or performing “discretionary” duties.
Currently, that ratio is flipped, with officers spending 60% of their time on calls, according to a city spokesperson.
The consulting firm used a workload-based analysis that takes into consideration population size, number of calls, ideal response time, time spent on a call and maximum work hours per officer, said SAPD Deputy Chief Robert Blanton.
More discretionary time would mean patrol officers could engage in the city’s Violent Crime Reduction Plan, increase visibility in neighborhoods to deter crime and spend more time “problem-solving” with community members after a call has been formally closed, Blanton said.
“We encourage officers to be innovative and take initiative to solve problems,” he said. “But …when you have these calls back up, and the majority of your time is spent on call, there’s some pressure internally on officers to move on to [handle] the next call.”
Most council members agreed that more police officers are needed to keep up with the city’s population growth.
“What we’re seeing today is just logical,” Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said. “I think it is obligatory for us, as elected officials. Our number one duty before anything else is to make sure that people are safe. Everything else is number two, number three, and so on.”
Community policing sought
But Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) pointed out that there are also increased staff needs across various city departments, including Public Works, Animal Care Services and Transportation.
“Everyone needs an increase in this way,” he said, calling the request for 100 additional patrol officers next year “somewhat arbitrary.”
Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) said the community would benefit more from an increase in specialized officers such as those in SAPD’s Mental Health Unit, neighborhood and community engagement officers and the SA CORE team, which deploys a police officer, paramedic and a mental health clinician respond to low-risk mental health calls.
Adding to those units wouldn’t help achieve that 40/60 time split recommended by the analysis, City Manager Erik Walsh said, “because that is really directed towards patrol officers.”
But the 40/60 target is up for debate, Walsh said. “If the council agrees, from a policy direction, that that ought to be our target, then we’ll figure out how to get there.”
SAPD will retain a different consultant for further analysis of SAPD’s investigative units and to identify further efficiencies within the department, Deputy City Manager María Villagómez said.
Even after adding 100 officers, public safety spending — which includes both police and fire budgets — would likely remain below 66% of the city’s general fund, a policy set by council in 2015.
But the city has not yet analyzed if the total 360 officers over the next few years would push the general fund beyond 66%, she said.
Nirenberg suggested that it might be time to remove that “arbitrary line.”
“Maybe we need to evaluate where that line is,” said Nirenberg, who voted as a council member in 2016 against a police union contract because at the time officials estimated it would break that threshold. “Maybe it’s not a useful number anymore. Maybe we need to be looking at the other aspects of our city budget instead.”
In 2015, the city was faced with ballooning healthcare costs associated with police and fire union contracts — an issue largely addressed by subsequent police and fire union contracts.
Nuisance properties targeted
The “Good Neighbor” program stems from the deadly dog attack last month and is modeled after the city’s Dangerous Assessment Response Team, which targets and abates “the worst of the worst” properties that attract crime and complaints, Villagómez said.
The program would target residential properties that receive enough minor criminal and code compliance violations that they can be classified as a nuisance.
The city will start with the top 20 residential properties that received 12 or more calls to 311, non-emergency 911 calls and emergency 911 calls within the last three months. This includes calls from someone at that address and from neighbors.
These 20 addresses account for more than a quarter of all 12,000 calls regarding single-family residential properties. Villagómez said a single residence on the West Side received 852 calls in three months, ranging from 1 to 28 calls for service in a single day.
A multi-departmental task force, including Animal Care Services, Development Services and SAPD, will determine how to best intervene.
It’s unclear how much the program will cost, but the city will start the pilot in June to determine what additional resources the program could need next year.