City officials want to hear from you on policing changes

Community meetings being held in April and May

City officials say they could be nearing a transition away from having police officers deal with issues like mental health calls.

San Antonio – San Antonio could be heading for a shift in policing, but top city officials say they need public input to get there.

During the FY 2021 budget process, when some residents were loudly calling for changes to the San Antonio Police Department and its budget, City Manger Erik Walsh pushed for a review of the city’s policing model and to what kind of calls residents want officers responding. While that review process, which is underway, could lead to changes, Walsh says they would not lead to a reduction in officers, and it “is not a plan to defund the police.”

“Will it have an impact on the police department budget? Maybe. Will it have an impact on maybe what officers do on a daily basis? Maybe,” Walsh said, in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

What changes may come remains to be seen, and could depend on what city officials hear during a series of more than 20 community meetings going on in April and May.

The city conducted a survey among residents regarding their feelings about the department, their feelings of safety, and their expectations for SAPD. The community meetings are an opportunity for more nuanced discussion and feedback.

They’re also a chance to help narrow down the scope of reforms that city officials will eventually suggest to city council members.

The survey results found that respondents were most open to putting the police into a shared or supporting roll for calls in six areas: graffiti, animal issues, parking violations, enforcement of public health orders, fireworks, and mental health or substance abuse issues not involving a weapon.

First, we want to figure out what the top two are, and once we have those, then we’ll sit together and try to figure out what is a and alternative response that that has the police officers as a backup,” said Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger.

Survey respondents rated calls for things like graffiti, animal issues, parking violations, enforcement of public health orders, fireworks, and mental health or substance abuse issues not involving a weapon as areas where SAPD officers could take a "shared" or "backup" level of responsibility.

Bridger said they are also holding meetings with shareholders on three specific issues: homelessness, mental health, and domestic violence.

“So we want to get input from these key stakeholders about ‘if we were to completely redo how we respond to these three big problems, how would we do it?’ Let’s start with a blank slate and let’s try to figure out what’s the best way to respond to these really gnarly problems,” Bridger said.

City officials said they planned to talk with police officers, as well.

The city also commissioned a study on the types of 911 calls SAPD officers respond to, the results of which will be presented to the Public Safety Committee next week.

Staff say they would like to present the findings on the community engagement portion to the committee in June.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.