SAPD plans to target people, not areas to curb violent crime in 2017

Police focusing covert units on violent crime across San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – Coming off a year tainted by a huge increase in violent crimes, the San Antonio Police Department is trying an intelligence-driven approach to curbing violent crime in 2017.

There were 151 homicides in 2016 -- a 61 percent spike over 2015. Chief William McManus said overall violent crime also increased about 9.2 percent overall.

In response, the department's strategy for the new year includes a Violent Crime Task Force. The idea is to bring together the department's covert units like the R.O.P., narcotics, gang and vice units, combine their intelligence and focus on violent crime across the city.

Police would focus on targets instead of target areas, going after people "that have and are committing violent crime," McManus said.

McManus said the initiative would involve S.A.F.F.E. officers within their own districts, but it would not affect patrol.

It's a change from the area-based approach police took this year. When bullets flew heavy on the East Side last year, the police came out in force in what was termed the "East Side Initiative."

In a way, McManus said, it worked. Police made a lot of arrests, he said, and they took 90 guns and 71.3 kilograms of drugs off the streets.

The real measure of whether it whether or not it worked, though, is impossible to determine -- whether or not it reduced crime.

"Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't," McManus said. "Who knows what our numbers would have looked like if we hadn't had the initiative."

Going after individual criminals instead of the places they're committing crimes, though, could be a more effective approach.

"If we are able to arrest the right individuals, it helps us keep a lid on the violence rather than just staying in the area and pounding it and pounding it through saturation," the chief said.

Under the new strategy, intelligence and analytics would point the task force toward its targets.

"And individuals don't reside in just one section of the city," McManus said. "So it'll be all over. It'll be across the board. And some of it may even take it outside the city."

SAPD's strategy will include partnering up with the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and various federal agencies too. McManus said the department would also work with the district attorney's office to arrange higher bonds for their targets.

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As an intelligence-driven plan, McManus said there's a lot of work on the front end to be done first. A warrant roundup, which a department spokesman said should be coming soon, will kick off the initiative.

Whether it will work remains to be seen. McManus says violent crime is not an issue that can be arrested away, but police have to do what they can.

"We can't sit back and do nothing different," he said. "We have to something different and at least try it."

District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez and District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, members of the Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services Committee, said they supported the plan.

"It absolutely will be positive," Lopez said.

"Typically whenever enforcement happens at one side of the town. Those individuals, if they don't get caught, go to another side of town," Lopez said. "So what we want to do to be able to do is kind of be predictive about it and be there whenever they show up so we can have quicker response."

Viagran said it's important that police are focusing their efforts citywide.

"I think now the police department, we are going to have very strategic and collaborative targeted plan to catch those perpetrators - those bad perpetrators," she said.

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