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[JUST UPDATED] San Antonio’s top cop outlines crime-fighting strategies

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Extra resources directed at areas experiencing spikes in crime are helping police keep a lid on lawbreaking across the North Side and the entire city, Police Chief William McManus recently told community members.

San Antonio’s top cop and other officials spoke during a public-safety town hall at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Loop 1604 campus. Groups from Stone Oak and other neighborhoods were invited.

This year, compared with 2017 figures for the same time period, violent crime is down 13 percent, property crime decreased 20 percent and total crime dropped 19 percent, the chief said.

McManus attributed the reductions to developing strategies concentrating on particular areas of crimes in the past year and a half, plus heightened responses by police units closely working with other agencies.

Cpl. Maranda Tupper with the University of Texas at San Antonio Police Department talks with visitors to her agency’s table at a recent public-safety forum at UTSA’s Loop 1604 campus. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

“We’re going after individuals, specific addresses and specific blocks,” McManus told the audience. “That’s as broad as that gets.”

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who also attended, said many residents and merchants easily can do a number of things to prevent offenses in their neighborhood.

“The more engaged you are with your police officers, the safer you are,” he said.

Afterward, Pelaez noted he’s aware some people wonder whether a police substation is needed north of 1604 to help address public-safety issues on the expanding far North Side.

But, for now, City Council plans no such formal discussions, he added.

San Antonio saw a dramatic increase in its homicide rate in 2016, recording 151 deaths. As a result, the San Antonio Police Department’s Violent Crime Task Force ramped up operations.

That was not the worst year for homicides in recent history, however. The Alamo City in the early 1990s saw more than 230 murders in one year with rampant gang violence.

In the nation’s seventh-largest municipality, a community expecting to add 1 million more people over the next 20-plus years, law enforcement is developing initiatives to curb illicit activity as the city grows, police said.

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez addresses a public-safety forum at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Loop 1604 campus. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

SAPD receives more than 1.5 million service calls a year. Officials said 2,445 officers cover 496 square miles, encompassing 115 patrol districts and six service areas.

When the task force began, SAPD acted alone. Now, the Police Department works with eight other county, state and federal law-enforcement agencies, McManus said.

The Police Department this year reports an arrest rate 133 percent higher than in 2017 for the same time period.

As a whole, the crime rate has shrunk “because we’ve arrested so many people. We’ve arrested the right people,” McManus added.

A statewide anti-gang program works with SAPD’s Street Crimes and Violent Crimes units. The force now has 10 gang investigators.

Due to the cooperation, SAPD has racked up 35 felony arrests and seized 64 firearms this year, the chief reported.

“It’s going to be a big boost for San Antonio for as long as they’re here,” McManus said of the anti-gang partnership.

Other community benefits come from working with San Antonio Fear Free Environment officers and law-enforcement Explorers, a program giving those aged 14-21 a glimpse of crime-fighting career options.

The Explorers had 38 individuals, supervised by different commands, when McManus began his San Antonio career 12 years ago. The Scouting program now has 180 members citywide under a unified authority.

The Police Department also created a Success Through Respect detail, which teaches students to do the right thing, and about positive police/community encounters.

There’s been formal recognition for much of SAPD’s community-engagement programs. The Department of Justice and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services in 2016 selected SAPD and 14 other law-enforcement agencies countrywide to participate in the Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative.

“They chose us because of the way we do things,” McManus said of the federal project.

The Police Department also has received a national commendation for its Mental Health Unit, which specifically trains officers how to interact with people “in mental crisis,” McManus said.

“One of the worst things that can happen is a person in mental crisis encounters police on the streets, and police wind up using deadly force,” he added.

All police cadets now are required to undergo mental-crisis intervention training.

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