SAN ANTONIO – Downtown businesses’ issues with people experiencing homelessness have spurred the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office to send deputies on patrol along the River Walk -- though not in great numbers nor with the ability to enforce all the local laws.
The River Walk, a prime tourist destination, is typically patrolled by San Antonio Park Police, who report to San Antonio Police Chief William McManus. However, BCSO announced Thursday on Facebook that Sheriff Javier Salazar had “met with downtown business leaders who requested a more pronounced presence along the tourist attraction area.”
BCSO deputies, according to the post, would begin patrolling the River Walk on foot starting this weekend, and they “will be equipped with materials to help tourists find common attractions, but also to help the homeless population find resources. Mental Health deputies will be assigned to help in support of the extra patrols.”
Dawn Ann Larios, the executive director of the Texas Restaurant Association West Region -- which includes San Antonio -- says she and Marco Barros, who represents some downtown business owners, met with Salazar on Wednesday. Larios said they requested the BCSO patrols during the meeting to help deter some of the problems businesses have seen.
“These operators have been devastated for over 13 months, and they’re just trying to get back to some sense of normalcy,” Larios told KSAT. “And by having homeless people taking baths in the river, sleeping in front of their businesses, panhandling in front of their businesses, it’s just -- it’s been devastating for them.”
People experiencing homelessness have “every right to pass through here,” she said. “But when they’re camping out, you know, these operators do have a problem with that.”
“We need to deter those people who want to come down here, and if they’re considering any wrongdoing, I think that police presence, sheriff’s presence is going to deter them from being here and causing those issues.”
The BCSO presence is an idea Larios said she brought up “months ago” in a meeting that included the TRA, River Walk operators, Chief McManus, and City Manager Erik Walsh.
“I brought it to their attention that, you know, perhaps we can get Bexar County, the Sheriff’s Office, to help us. And so fast forward, it’s that plan is coming to fruition,” Larios said.
Bob Buchanan, the owner of The Original Mexican Restaurant, is happy there will be extra law enforcement along the River Walk. He doesn’t believe the Park Police have enough of a presence.
“Look around in this block, up that block. Do you see a park ranger?” Buchanan said.
Buchanan said he has seen issues with urinating and defecating on the River Walk, as well as people taking food and money off the tables.
“People wanting to take advantage of maybe any situation. They’re not dumb. They will come where the people are and try to see what they can get away with,” Buchanan said. “And with someone in a uniform, I think that will help deter that.”
BCSO spokesman Deputy Johnny Garcia said the patrols would only be two shifts on Saturdays between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., with three deputies per shift, paired with patrol cadets from the patrol orientation academy.
In response to questions about the existing officer staffing along the River Walk, SAPD spokeswoman Mariah Medina told KSAT in an emailed statement the following:
“The Department tailors its proactive patrol strategies according to issues discovered by officers on patrol, in addition to the regular meetings the Department has with Downtown business owners. The issue of officer presence has not been raised in recent conversations.”
Additionally, Medina noted, “many of the issues officers encounter Downtown are city ordinance violations.” Those include noise complaints, unauthorized vendors, aggressive panhandling, and smoking, which deputies would be unable to enforce.
Garcia said the foot patrol deputies would “mainly be there to enforce state law and deter criminal activity to include assisting tourists finding certain destinations and provide additional information needed.”
ALSO ON KSAT.COM