Jun 1, 2023 - News

Violent crime in San Antonio drops since "hot spot" policing began

Illustration of a security camera topped with police car lights

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Violent crime in San Antonio has decreased since the police department began a new "hot spot" strategy this year, but it may be too soon to say whether the policing plan affected the drop. 

Catch up fast: In January, police launched the hot spot strategy, part of a plan developed by the University of Texas at San Antonio to reduce violent crime.

  • The city began implementing its plan as hot spot policing was in the national spotlight following the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers who were part of a hot spot unit.
  • "This has nothing to do with the kind of policing we saw in Memphis," police chief William McManus said at the time.

Why it matters: As police have sat visibly in the hot spot areas for about five months, McManus says the efforts have had a positive effect on violent crime. But the effort isn't popular with everyone.

How it works: Officers sit in marked police cars for 15 minutes in the identified hot spots where violent crime occurs most often. Police covered 54 spots across the city from January to April, with little overlap.

  • Their presence is meant to deter people from committing crimes.
  • Hot spot policing is one of just three approaches in the three-year violent crime reduction plan.

By the numbers: Overall, violent crime against people decreased by 16.5% from January to April compared with the same period last year, McManus told the City Council on Wednesday.

  • That's primarily due to fewer assaults.

Yes, but: There were 60 homicides from January to April this year, a 9.1% increase over the 55 recorded during the same time in 2022.

What they're saying: "This is not about making arrests or shaking people down, or doing anything else than being visible at these locations," McManus told reporters.

  • San Antonio police have not arrested anyone while sitting in a hot spot, McManus says.
  • "Hot spot policing is not going to solve the violent crime problem in San Antonio" on its own, Michael Smith, a criminology and criminal justice professor at UTSA who helped develop the plan, told the council.

Of note: It's too soon to say whether the drop in violent crime is related to the hot spot policing, Smith says.

The other side: Home rehabilitation, street lighting, education and transportation can all help reduce crime, District 2 Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez says.

  • "It's disappointing that we aren't yet talking about those in the context of this plan sooner," he says.

The big picture: San Antonio officials often debate the most effective and equitable ways to reduce violent crime.

  • Some, like District 3 Councilmember Phyllis Viagran, have supported the plan and want to expand the city's police force.
  • Others, like District 5 Councilmember Teri Castillo, are worried about over-policing lower income neighborhoods and want to focus resources on other city departments.

Zoom out: The city is looking to hire 100 new patrol officers next year as San Antonio continues to hash out details of the next city budget, which takes effect in October.

What's next: The second phase of the violent crime reduction plan, beginning this fall, is to identify through data the causes of violent crime and develop solutions.

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