SAN ANTONIO – Three out of four Bexar County voters agree that the closure of local businesses due to the coronavirus outbreak is a serious problem, according to a newly released Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report Poll.
When voters were asked an open-ended question about the most serious problem in San Antonio, 17% said crime and safety followed by 12% who said police accountability.
The findings come from a phone and internet survey of 619 registered Bexar County voters from Sept. 17-21.
Residents who were surveyed were given a list of issues affecting the county. They were asked to determine whether this issue was an extremely serious problem, a very serious problem, a somewhat serious problem or not a serious problem.
The closure of local businesses due to the pandemic was among the biggest issues. Other issues many voters agreed was a very serious or extremely serious problem include child abuse, homelessness, domestic violence and the cost of health care.
While voters seemed to agree on the economic impact of COVID-19, a partisan gap could be found in their responses about the spread of the virus.
Nearly two-thirds of independents and 83% of the Democrats surveyed said the spread of the virus was a very serious or extremely serious problem, while only 35% of Republicans agreed. Similar gaps existed in questions on unemployment, low wages and income inequality.
The pandemic has already caused the city of San Antonio to shift its priorities.
During the State of the City address in June, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg proposed that a 1/8 cent sales tax that was initially slated for VIA Metropolitan Transit be diverted to workforce development and economic opportunity program.
After VIA opposed the plan, the city and the transit service agreed to a compromise that would allow the city to use the sales tax for the coronavirus recovery program first before shifting the rest of the money into transportation funding.
That proposal will be up to voters to approve on the Nov. 3 ballot.
During the survey, residents were also asked an open ended question: What do you think is the most serious problem facing the greater San Antonio area?
While no one issue was mentioned by a majority of voters, crime and safety was the leading answer at 17%. The second leading answer, which came in at 12%, is policing and related issues, like police training, support, accountability and brutality.
Other answers included the economy and homelessness. According to the polling, 16% of those surveyed had other concerns, were unsure of their answer or refused to give an answer.
At the same time, there has been a greater desire for police accountability since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Activists have been calling for changes that would make it easier to fire police officers who have committed misconduct.
Law enforcement agencies in Bexar County have shot more civilians in 2020 than in previous years, and San Antonio police faced heavy scrutiny after arresting a Black jogger who was not the suspect they were looking for.
The mayor issued a statement Tuesday about the ongoing efforts to reform the San Antonio Police Department:
City Manager Erik Walsh has called for an in-depth evaluation of the police department that will include community input. The process will examine police accountability, discipline issues and analyze community expectations.
The manager is expected to suggest reform measures next spring.
Meanwhile, change is under way now in those areas where it can be achieved quickly.
Police Chief William McManus last week updated mental health crisis procedures and announced a permanent ban on “no knock” warrants.
The change in mental health protocol is designed to put an increased emphasis on de-escalating situations before confrontations and tragedies occur.
McManus’ ban on the “no knock’ warrants comes on the heels of Councilwoman Jada Andrews Sullivan’s work to bring City Council action to end the policy.
The chief also has clarified the department’s ban on chokeholds – first instituted in 2014-- in situations in which deadly force is not authorized.
And on another front, I have called for a City Council review of polices regarding the release of officers’ body camera footage as part of our effort to improve transparency, accountability and public accessibility.San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg