Jan 31, 2024 - News

San Antonio takes public health lens to violent crime

Illustration of a red cross composed of handguns.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

San Antonio is launching a new effort that looks beyond the police department to reduce violence and instead approaches crime as a public health issue that community organizations can help tackle.

Why it matters: Communities that lack proper public resources are more susceptible to both violence and health issues, per the American Public Health Association.

  • Violence is considered a social determinant of health, which are living conditions that affect people's health.
  • "There's a definite link between economic segregation, racism and poor economic and public health outcomes," District 2 Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, who represents the East Side, said at a City Council meeting last week.

Details: The city released the Violence Prevention Strategic Plan for San Antonio and Bexar County last week. It suggests tactics to reduce youth violence, gun violence, sexual violence and domestic violence over the next five years.

  • The plan was developed by the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, the San Antonio Police Department, the University of Texas at San Antonio and St. John Baptist Church.

By the numbers: The city has budgeted about $11.4 million in the current fiscal year for violence prevention within Metro Health's budget, director Claude Jacob told the City Council.

  • The city will also have to find new resources to carry out the plan, Metro Health spokesperson David Andres Alegria told Axios.

Zoom in: Some of the short- and long-term suggestions to reduce violence include:

  • Investing in parenting programs and youth mentoring services like Big Brothers Big Sisters.
  • Expanding gun lock and safe distribution programs.
  • Making changes to court proceedings to increase the likelihood that survivors will follow through with prosecution, including by allowing survivors to testify without seeing their alleged perpetrators.
  • Providing affordable transitional housing for domestic violence survivors and incorporating education on healthy relationships in schools.

What they're saying: "This is essentially a new view of public safety," District 6 Councilmember Melissa Cabello Havrda, who represents the Far West Side, said at a council meeting last week. "It's a seed we planted today that I think will bear fruit for many years."

  • She said much of the plan was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • "They all challenged us at that time to think of policing in a different way," Cabello Havrda said.

State of play: The city has looked to other tactics to rethink policing since 2020 — including a program that sends mental health professionals and paramedics alongside police officers in response to some 911 calls.

Zoom out: Homicides and violent crime fell in San Antonio last year, following a sharp rise in homicides in 2020.

Yes, but: Children across Texas are increasingly dying from gun violence, the Texas Tribune reported.

What's next: The city will have to determine what benchmarks officials can use to show progress on the plan — something the public health field struggles with, city manager Erik Walsh told the City Council.


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