City audit brings big changes to SAPD's domestic violence Crisis Response Team program

Domestic abuse expert applauds audit, says changes will benefit victims

SAN ANTONIO – Big changes are coming to the San Antonio Police Department's team that handles domestic violence cases after a city audit found that the Crisis Response Team wasn't following several procedures.

One domestic violence expert said the changes will directly help the victims.

Last year, a KSAT crew witnessed the balance of a delicate job, as Crisis Response Team, or CRT, officers swooped in after a domestic abuse case.

"He said, 'I'm going to kill you all,'" the victim explained to the officers.

Like all home visits, the officers offered to help the survivor file charges, protective orders and find life-saving resources.

It was last year during that same time that the city was auditing the CRT program. In 2015, the police department requested to audit its own team.

"We initiated this audit on our own. We brought in the audit company to identify areas that we can improve on to better assist domestic violence victims," San Antonio police Sgt. Jesse Salame said.

The audit found that officers responding to domestic violence through 911 calls didn't always forward those cases to CRT officers. That made it possible for cases to fall through the cracks.

"For the people, it may be saving a life or not, incarcerating or taking away the perpetrator," explained Marta Pelaez, the Battered Women and Children's Shelter CEO.

Pelaez has worked with abuse survivors for years and applauds the audit.

"I really commend Chief (William) McManus for having that transparency in his attitude toward an issue that pains the city in such great numbers," she said.

Pelaez brings special attention to the parts of the audit report that highlighted the need for faster intervention. The city's audit found many CRT officers were taking too long to follow up on cases.

"When the victim has the impetus, the strength and the opportunity to ask for help, that's when it should be given. Because chances are, she might not have that impetus again," Pelaez said.

Pelaez said faster follow-up also helps officers keep tabs on added violent incidents or broken protective orders.

These recommendations are part of a new standard for how teams across the city will report, handle and follow up on cases. The audit found there was not a uniform way of handling cases from substation to substation.

"These changes are desperately important, because many times ... the one person the victim will be in contact with, in terms of seeking help, is that police officer that comes to their door," Pelaez said.

The audit also called for better training, which will begin to be implemented in November. Pelaez plans to be very active in that CRT training. The Battered Women and Children's Shelter falls under the umbrella of Family Violence Prevention Services, which has helped with CRT training in the recent past and will collaborate with the new updated training as well.

Other than new training, the San Antonio Police Department confirmed that the CRT program has already started implementing these recommended changes.

"After identifying steps in the process where we can improve, we implemented the recommendations. These enhancements will ensure that we are providing the adequate resources to victims when they need it the most," Salame said.

SAPD also plans to look at the CRT program quarterly to continue to improve it. 

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