SAN ANTONIO – The year 2016 was a deadly year in the Alamo City. One hundred and forty-nine people were victims of homicides, the highest number the city has seen since 1995.
Not only was there a spike in the murder rate, detectives also solved fewer of those crimes than the year before.
The San Antonio Police Department said there's many factors behind the clearance rate numbers, and the agency is already trying something new to reduce violent crimes in 2017.
San Antonio police Chief William McManus said he's not concerned his detectives only cleared 68 percent of last year's homicides compared to 87 percent in 2015.
The Police Department's clearance rate for 2016 was slightly better than the national average of 61.5 percent.
"The clearance rate varies. It depends on the case. There's so many variables that lead to the closure of that case. Sometimes the variables are in our favor and sometimes they're not," McManus said. "Even though our clearance rate is lower than it was the year before, our clearance rate is typically always above the national average."
Police credit a portion of the high clearance rate in 2015 to one man, Ruben "Menace" Reyes, a Mexican Mafia enforcer. Reyes gave detectives information that helped them close 16 unsolved murders from years past, which added to the 2015 clearance rate.
Seeing murders jump from 95 in 2015 to 149 in 2016 is what troubles McManus.
In response to the spike, he formed a new violent crime task force. After one month on the streets, he's pleased with the task force's performance.
"We put all of our specialized units together working on one mission, and that mission is to prevent violent crime and go after people who commit violent crime. And hopefully we get enough synergy through the year to make that happen," McManus said. "They've made a lot of arrests. They've made a lot of seizures, both firearms and drugs, and they're just getting started."
McManus said he hopes that will translate to fewer murders by the end of the year, because most victims are involved in gangs, drugs and prostitution, issues the task force is focused on.
"Most of the people who are being shot and are doing the shooting are people who are living high-risk lifestyles," McManus said. "They're involved in gangs. They're selling drugs. They're buying drugs on the street, prostitutes, people who solicit prostitution. These are all high-risk lifestyles, and if you engage in those types of lifestyles, your chances of becoming a victim of a crime, a violent crime, go way up."
While the task force could have an impact on those activities, the chief cautioned it's much more difficult to prevent crimes of passion, like arguments and domestic violence. McManus pointed to the killing of a young woman last week as a prime example.
"It was inside of an apartment, boyfriend, girlfriend, and she winds up dead. And we're not quite sure exactly why or what happened," McManus said. "Those types of things are impossible to prevent."
McManus said it's difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for climbing murder rates when there are so many different motives behind the crimes.
"What we saw last year was a variety of motives all over the map and there's no rhyme or reason why that happened," McManus said. "So we've been trying to put our finger on a cause, hoping that will maybe help us stop it, but we have not been able to do that."