Lack of money preventing smaller cities from being able to afford online crime maps

Police suggest people call departments to learn about area

SAN ANTONIO – Finding out the criminal history of a property before you move in or buy a property is no easy task.

This week, Michelle Jones found out the hard way her property on Lands Point in the Northwest Side had criminal baggage.

Family unaware home was site of previous drive-by shootings

“Only this house has had drive-by's. Surreal,” she said.

Her home was riddled with bullets. But it was police and neighbors who told her, after living there only a month. “The land lady did not disclose this information to me,” she said.

Brenda Davila, with Keller Williams Property, said clients always ask about crime around a property, but by law that is not something realty companies have to disclose.

“We don’t have to disclose information if it’s unrelated to the condition of the property,” she explained.

For example, if it is something that’s related to the danger of the building itself that would be disclosed to a client and crime is not included. Davila said she tries to be up-front with her clients about a property with criminal history, but it’s up to the client to do their own investigative work.

“We can’t guarantee the safety,” she said. “If I was a renter or a buyer, I would be asking a lot of questions.”

The hunt for criminal activity can be even more difficult for people moving to a small community. With that small-town feel also comes smaller municipal budgets, so, for now, police recommend calling them to see if they can provide crime information.

Kirby police Lt. James Laymon said it is a call his department often gets.

“People call us all the time. ‘Hey I’m thinking of moving to the 4800 block of Michael Collins. Do you make a lot of calls over there?’” he said.

For the past four years, he’s been working on a crime tracking map that would be able to provide that kind of information to the public. It’s taken thousands of data entry points and hundreds of hours of work but it’s still just in the beginning stages and not ready to be published. Though the cost of the website is not significant, hiring a person to maintain the site is cost-prohibitive. 

The website is an expensive investment the city has made that will also be used by the Fire Department and Public Works Department.

Laymon said internal use of this crime tracking map has already helped his agency get a handle on some crimes. 

“It would give people insight into what's happening in their community,” he said.

But, for now, he urges people to call or ask the police department when they are looking at properties. Some may help provide crime information but it may take time.

Balcone Heights and Alamo Heights police don’t have crime tracking maps, but said they can provide some details to residents. Many small police departments rely on their website or social media to spread current information about crimes.

Leon Valley has a crime data map on the city’s website that provide a list of calls and arrests.

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