Mar 20, 2024 - News

New city of San Antonio office tackles crime outside Police Department

Illustration of the San Antonio city logo shape with yellow and black safety stripes on it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The city of San Antonio has created a new office to examine how programs and policies outside the Police Department impact crime, a City Council member request more than two years in the making.

Why it matters: The office is the city's latest attempt to expand its public safety approach beyond traditional police work since 2020, when the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests across the country and calls to rethink approaches to crime.

Catch up quick: District 2 Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, a progressive who represents the East Side, submitted a request in January 2022 to create such an office, seeking a broader approach to how the city tackles crime that starts from root causes like economic gaps.

  • He campaigned in 2021 on a promise to reimagine public safety and hold police accountable. He is one of the council's biggest critics of the Police Department.

The latest: City manager Erik Walsh announced the creation of the Office of Integrated Community Safety in a February memo released to the public Wednesday.

Flashback: City staff members have in the past expressed doubt that San Antonio needed a new office.

  • At a September council committee meeting, staff did not recommend creating an office, saying existing city work on violence prevention addressed the intent of McKee-Rodriguez's request.
  • McKee-Rodriguez disagreed.

What they're saying: McKee-Rodriguez said he's excited to finally see an office come to fruition, and that this week marked a change.

  • "Establishing this office signals that the city is committed to enhancing community safety by engaging in it holistically and leading the charge to address social conditions that contribute to crime," McKee-Rodriguez said in a statement.
  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg was not immediately available for comment.

Zoom in: Employees in the new office will evaluate how city actions and programs — like youth and workforce development and infrastructure improvements — affect crime.

  • They will also look for grant opportunities to support new ways to prevent crime.
  • The office will oversee the rollout of a violence prevention plan spearheaded by Metro Health and the city's violent crime reduction plan for the Police Department.

By the numbers: The office will have a team of eight employees including a director, assistant to the director and data analysts. It is expected to be fully staffed by April.

  • It did not require additional city funding because it is staffed through existing positions from various departments, Walsh told the San Antonio Report.

Context: The office joins several other city initiatives since 2020 that aim to make public safety the responsibility of many, not just the police.

Zoom out: Cities across the country have similar offices that take various approaches to crime reduction, including in Milwaukee, New York City and Oakland, California.

What's next: The office is expected to be a permanent fixture in San Antonio and will report regularly to the council's Public Safety Committee.

  • "I think this is a huge step in the right direction in holistically addressing public safety," District 7 Councilmember Marina Alderete Gavito said.
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