SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with plans for the county to operate its own prisoner processing facility after the city broke off talks last week to hand over control of its current operation.
The decision to separate from the city came after county officials negotiated for months with the city to take over operation of the Central Magistrate's Office at 401 S. Frio.
County officials last month said publicly that they were confident an agreement would be reached, but city officials, including San Antonio police Chief William McManus, expressed reservations about relinquishing control.
In a presentation during commissioners court last fall, county officials said the best-case scenario would be for the county to take over the current facility and eventually move the operation to the south end of the jail, which is currently being expanded.
Plans to include the new magistrate facility in the jail expansion will move forward, but will not include the city.
A vast majority of those processed at the 401 S. Frio facility are arrests conducted by the San Antonio Police Department.
Officials said the new county facility would process people arrested by smaller county law enforcement agencies, such as the Converse Police Department, after the county and the city begin their own operations.
The county facility will be part of an expansion expected to cost more than $32 million, according to estimates provided by the county's facilities manager.
An expert hired by the county to analyze the city's processing facility compared it to a Third World country and said the building itself is "obsolete" during a presentation Tuesday before commissioners court.
Mike Lozito, the county's director of judicial and county intake services, told commissioners the current city facility has caused "major bottlenecks" in prisoner processing.
Lozito said mental health clinicians assigned to the facility spend 39 percent of their time waiting to see prisoners.
Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, a former magistrate judge, said the county moving forward with its own facility will improve safety and allow the county to control how people enter and exit the jail.
Prisoners are currently booked at 401 S. Frio, and if they are unable to post bond, are transported several blocks to the county jail on North Comal Street.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar told commissioners the plan was "a good way to do business, and I think everyone will be pleased with the results."
Judge Nelson Wolff introduced the item Tuesday and said he was surprised by the city's decision to end negotiations last week.
"The police chief just wants to dump somebody right away and go off. Well we have procedures that you got to go through to make sure this person was properly arrested," said Wolff, in an interview after the presentation.
McManus released the following statement on the city's decision not to relinquish control:
"The city of San Antonio shares a commitment and collective responsibility with Bexar County to ensure the safety and security of all residents. The plan proposed by the County is not viable for SAPD because it does not handle all classification of arrestees, and would potentially require police officers to spend more time processing prisoners, which has a direct impact on our ability to get officers back out in the street patrolling our neighborhoods. We intend to continue working with the county to find an agreeable solution in the best interest of public safety."