UTSA Study: some low priority calls to police might not need officer response

Study part of City of San Antonio efforts to possibly change role of police

SAN ANTONIO – A study of San Antonio police calls for service found some lower priority call types, such as disturbances or barking dogs, might be able to be handled by something other than the typical dispatch of a sworn SAPD officer.

The study of more than 3 million incidents over a 34-month period was conducted by a pair of University of Texas at San Antonio professors from the Criminology and Criminal Justice Department, on behalf of the City of San Antonio. City officials are considering whether there are instances in which police could take a supporting or backup role in responding to calls for service.

The study’s authors, Michael Smith and Rob Tillyer, made no recommendations on what kind of calls would be best handled by non-police personnel, but they did write, “We would note that such decisions can be informed by the data reflected in the Tables and Figures contained in this report.”

The duo pointed to the number of incidents of each call type, the number of units dispatched to handle them, the time spent on scene, and how often an incident type resulted in an official report as key indicators.

“Certain call types -- and I’ll reference back to the barking dog or the disturbance calls -- rarely result in an official report being taken, which suggests that you perhaps don’t need a sworn police officer there to deal with them,” co-author Michael Smith told the Public Safety Committee members.

“They’re often dispatched to a single officer, which is indicative of the level of seriousness and/or risk associated with the call. They’re fairly low priority and fairly low risk. And they’re also some of these call types handled relatively quickly. And so it is if these types of calls that potentially could be responded to by an entity other than the police, or maybe in conjunction with the police.”

Beyond the UTSA study, which was presented to the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, the city also commissioned a survey of 1,150 city residents about their view and expectations of SAPD, and it is in the middle of hosting a series of public meetings to get more nuanced responses.

City staff expect to present recommendations to council members in either June or August and then incorporate them into the FY 2022 budget cycle.

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.

City officials have said they want to use the community discussions to further narrow down that list to just two areas.

The UTSA study, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez told committee members on Tuesday, can provide the hard data on what it takes to respond to each type of call.

“That’ll help us inform ‘What do we need to add in terms of resources to be able to transfer that call to a non-SAPD resource?’ Or we get into the details of those calls and maybe determine that it should be a combined response, that it should be code enforcement responding first and then SAPD,” Villagomez said. “The work that UTSA has done will help us and form those recommendations.”

If you’re interested in attending one of the community meetings to give your opinion, you can find the calendar HERE.


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