Apr 18, 2024 - News

What's behind the drop in homicides, violent crime in San Antonio

Illustration of a downward arrow made of crime scene tape.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Homicides and violent crime are down in San Antonio so far in 2024 compared to last year.

Why it matters: Officials attribute the trend to new crime reduction efforts like hot spot policing, but the drop mirrors what's happening in other cities — a decrease in violence after sharp increases during the pandemic.

By the numbers: San Antonio saw a 37% drop in homicides so far in 2024 compared with the same period in 2023, according to data that police chief William McManus shared with the City Council's Public Safety Committee Tuesday.

  • Other types of violent crime were also down. Kidnappings fell by 26%, sex offenses by 23%, human trafficking by 12.5% and assaults by 4%.
  • Overall, violent crime in San Antonio was down 5.7% in the first part of the year.

The big picture: The number of homicides in 204 cities fell 20% in the first three months this year compared to the same time last year, per an AH Datalytics report reviewed by Axios' Russell Contreras.

Catch up quick: San Antonio's police department began hot spot policing in 2023. It's the first phase of the Violent Crime Reduction Plan that University of Texas at San Antonio researchers created for the city.

  • The method involves officers sitting in marked police cars for 15 minutes in identified "hot spots" where violent crime is most likely to occur.

The latest: Rob Tillyer, a UTSA criminology professor, told council members Tuesday that violent crime, including murders, was no longer increasing in those hot spot areas — achieving the plan's goal.

  • "We're substantially impacting the level of violence in those locations," Tillyer said. "And that, indirectly then, is having an effect on our citywide levels of violence."
  • The crime does not appear to be relocating to other areas nearby, per Tillyer.

Reality check: Analyzing homicide numbers can help assess a city's safety, but residents' perception of safety is also impacted by other crimes like assaults and robberies.

What they're saying: "When we have more officers doing proactive work as opposed to reactively answering calls, that's gonna show less violent crime," said Councilmember Melissa Cabello Havrda, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

Yes, but: Hot spot policing is not the only change the city made last year that could be affecting the violent crime numbers, said District 2 Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, who frequently advocates for crime solutions outside the police department.

  • He pointed to the expansion of a program that sends mental health professionals and paramedics alongside police officers to some 911 calls.
  • "This plan is not happening in a silo," McKee-Rodriguez said.

What's next: The police department will continue hot spot policing. Another analysis from UTSA is expected this summer.

  • The city is also moving forward with the second phase in UTSA's Violent Crime Reduction plan, which targets the underlying conditions that lead to crime.

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