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Spriester's Sessions: Addressing East Side crime, problems facing city

SAN ANTONIO – STEVE SPRIESTER: Steve Spriester here. We are here at police headquarters for our monthly conversation with San Antonio Police Chief William McManus. We are actually in a room that they call SARIC – or the Southwest Texas Fusion Center. What does SARIC stand for?

CHIEF WILLIAM McMANUS: SARIC is the San Antonio Regional Intelligence Center.

SPRIESTER: Talk about this room and how important it is not only to San Antonio police, but some of the other law enforcement in the area.

McMANUS:  Sure. We have the detectives that work up here in the Fusion Center, what they do is basically mine data. They push that information that they receive that is actionable back into the field. And we have different law enforcement organizations up here. We have fire here – some on full time basis, some on part-time, but we basically mine data up here. Anything that’s actionable, as I said, we push it back to the street to the officer as information.

SPRIESTER: I know sometimes – you said this has been in operation for four years – and I know sometimes cooperating with others and making sure everybody gets the information is a tough task. This makes it much easier, am I right?

McMANUS:  Sure it makes it easier. Having the designation of Southwest Texas Fusion Center, the area that it encompasses – we share information, we share databases with other law enforcement agencies within that area -- if they choose to participate in Fusion Center activities.

SPRIESTER: Let’s change gears here a little bit. I want to talk about neighborhoods – specifically near east side group of neighborhoods seem to be vocal about them wanting more of a police presence in their areas.

McMANUS:  Well, more of a police presence and more positive results to the crime that they report and the quality of life issues that they report.

SPRIESTER: How do – so they contact the police department saying ‘we want more positive results.’ What do positive results mean for them and what do they mean for the police department?

McMANUS:  Well, the most recent meeting that we had with the groups over there was set up by Councilman Warrick. We go over there, we meet with a number of community leaders and residents in the area. The frustration that comes out of those meetings is that the problems that they are concerned about, the problems that they have voiced in the past, there is short term relief, sometimes, and then it just kind of drifts back again. And the reason that it does that is because typically when we go on a call for service – I’ll give you an example. There’s a call for people going in and out of a vacant house. That tells me that it’s being used possibly for drugs, for prostitution, so as a neighbor, you pick up the phone and you say, ‘Hey, I got somebody coming in and out of this house, can you come out and check it out?’ We go out. There may be somebody in the house. Maybe we arrest them, maybe we send them on their way. We leave, we go back in service, answer the next call and then two hours later, we got somebody calling again, ‘Hey! I got somebody going into the house. Come and check it out.’ And so we wind up doing this again and again and it’s a continuous loop. What needs to happen is, we need to resolve that call, that issue, at its root cause. The root cause is not going to be solved by sending an officer in there and shooing them away only to have them come back again. Let’s find out who the owner is. Let’s let the owner know that ‘hey, you’ve got to brick your place up.’ ‘Well, I boarded it up.’ ‘Hey, your boards aren’t holding it. You’ve got to brick it up. They brick it up, problem solved.

SPRIESTER: Yeah. That’s a long term solution –

McMANUS:  That’s a long term solution.

SPRIESTER: Those are the kind of problems from the east side mostly?

McMANUS:  Part of it. It’s a piece of it. You’ve got drug issues over there, you’ve got prostitution – not just there, but everywhere.

SPRIESTER: Yeah

McMANUS:  The east side just happened to bring it to my attention, to the councilman’s attention who brought it to my attention. And not so much bringing it to our attention, but bringing it to our attention to address it in a different way.

SPRIESTER: Yeah. When you go into a meeting like that, I think we talked about this a little bit in our last conversation that you want to be the face of the department.

McMANUS:  Correct.

SPRIESTER: You want to be on the front lines when it comes to this kind of thing.

McMANUS:  Correct

SPRIESTER: Is that your mindset when you go to a meeting like the meeting you had several weeks ago or the meeting you had just a few days ago?

McMANUS:  Sure. Whose job if not mine to go in and at least kick those meetings off? Open them up. Now the follow up meetings, once we get it rolling, once we get all the players, the right players involved, different departments that can touch the players involved that have been identified there, then I can back out -- as long as somebody else owns it.

SPRIESTER: Would it be right to say that you’re taking the proactive approach to what is happening on the east side, not just the short term but also the long term?

McMANUS:  That would be absolutely right. A proactive approach and making sure that the appropriate people are in charge of it and the appropriate people own it to get it done.

SPRIESTER: Let’s say I’m in my neighborhood and I don’t see a lot of police. That makes me think, ‘oh, there’s not a police presence here.’ Is that a problem that you run into no matter what the neighborhood?

McMANUS:  I think the mistake that many folks make is that we have these issues we need more police. You don’t necessarily need more police. We need more strategic thinking in how to address it in its root.

SPRIESTER: Is there – I mean I know there are just certain stories that I do that I’m not going to make everybody happy. Does that happen sometimes in some of these neighborhood meetings too where you’re going to go in and know nobody is going to be totally happen and you hope to find a happy medium?

McMANUS:  Well, I think it’s more than a happy medium is needed. People need to believe and feel confident that we’re going to deliver. And the only way they’re going to feel that is if we continue to follow up with them, we continue to involve them in the process.

SPRIESTER: In what ways?

McMANUS:  For example, what I’ve asked the folks at that meeting to do is to identify issues – every issue that you’ve got in your neighborhood that concerns you – whether it’s a lot that’s got overgrown grass, whether it’s dogs that are running around, whether it’s prostitution on the corner, whether it’s gang issues. And after you identify them, let’s prioritize them in order of importance. Once I get that information, then we can call of the different agencies, departments, organizations that can touch the problem and help solve it. Once we start to attack those problems, it’s important to follow up with the group to let them know the progress that you’re making or the difficulties that you’re having or both, in addressing the problem. And that way, you’re both working on it together and it’s not where they reported it and then they didn’t hear anything back. There’s got to be follow up.

SPRIESTER: Is that what your advice would be for every neighborhood that thinks they have a problem or does have a problem? I mean, perception is reality for a lot of these things.

McMANUS:  It is. It absolutely is. And I’ll tell you Steve, in the past, you know, years ago, you call police and you say ‘Hey, I have this issue in my neighborhood.’ ‘Okay, we’ll send some extra officers out.’ There are no extra cars to go out. You know, the officers will be assigned to ride through the neighborhood, you know make people feel better because of the visibility, but that doesn’t solve the problem.

SPRIESTER: Right. So now, you’re looking for solutions.

McMANUS:  So today, in today’s world – today’s policing world, community policing or problem oriented policing is a different way of addressing those kinds of chronic neighborhood issues – be they crime, be they quality of life.

SPRIESTER: Yeah. And it’s not – you don’t see it as a pain in the neck if somebody calls and says I’ve got this problem in X, Y or Z neighborhood?

McMANUS:  I wish they would call. I wish they would call. When people don’t call, the problem festers and it simmers. And then when it finally reaches a boil, that’s when I usually get called in. And I’d rather address it sooner than later. We’ve done it in other areas of the city, I’ve gone out and block walked with people to see their problems, I take SAFFE officers with me when I go. They’re the ones that are going to follow up on it. They’re the ones that are going to report back to the neighborhoods. Let them know what’s happening, what isn’t happening what more we need to do and we just keep giving updates until we resolve the issues.

SPRIESTER: So, in a way, what we’re talking about sort of fits in with SARIC. You’ve got police here. You’ve got the county. You’ve got federal. You’ve got the fire department. All these agencies if you want to concentrate on one particular neighborhood.

McMANUS:  If SARIC needs to get involved in a SAFFE officer’s initiatives – there’s often houses that we need to know who lives there. We need to know – if we have a name who we suspect is involved in criminal activity, you know, we need to know who that person is or what their history is. That’s where SARIC comes in.

SPRIESTER: Yeah. That’s all the questions I have chief. Anything else you want to add or wanted to bring up?

McMANUS: No, just that we want to make an entire shift to community policing. We have officers that handle calls for service and we want to have a community policing component that works chronic neighborhood quality of life crime issues. And that’s what this component will do: address the chronic quality of life.

SPRIESTER: And I think a lot of people are still stuck in the ‘I call, they send out a cop.’

McMANUS:  Yeah. I haven’t been to one meeting where I’ve run through this type of scenario and how it works where I haven’t gotten approval from the group and I say, ‘Are you with me? Do you like the idea?’  ‘Yep, we do.’ So that’s the way we need to continue to move forward. We may not be able to get buy in across the city on this – it’s not really new, this new way, but we just keep doing it more and more and more in neighborhoods. So that’s the way we need to continue to move forward. We may not be able to get buy in across the city on this, it’s not really a new, this new way, but we’ll just keep doing it more and more and more in different neighborhoods.

SPRIESTER: That’s all the questions I have.

McMANUS:  Thank you, Steve.