SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio police officers took more than 15,700 guns off the streets the past four years, an analysis of data by the KSAT 12 Defenders shows.
The staggering number of firearm seizures, from people who illegally possessed them or were in possession of them when committing crimes, reveal a prolonged effort by SAPD to combat violent crime in the city.
“The effect is a potential crime that could be committed with that firearm may have been stopped because they no longer had that firearm,” said Sgt. Phillip Bourcier, a supervisor with SAPD’s Street Crimes Unit.
“Our guys go out every day in search of violent felons, along with the firearms that they use to commit these crimes,” said Bourcier, referring to the unit that follows the data to patrol high crime areas where violence is spiking.
From June 2017 through May 2021, a four-year period, SAPD seized 15,734 firearms, department records show.
The gun seizures peaked this spring, when officers seized 857 firearms during a single two-month period.
The confiscations resulted from saturated patrols, directed patrols, traffic stops and calls for service.
“And again, we’re not removing legally possessed firearms. We’re removing firearms from people that should not have them,” said Bourcier.
Handguns were the most widely seized type of firearm, including 233 Ruger LCPs alone and several hundred Glocks, broken down into various models.
An analysis of the data shows that gun seizures and violent crimes generally correlate, spiking and falling together most of the time.
Dr. Carsten Andresen, associate professor of criminal justice at St. Edward’s University, said he was surprised at the high number of SAPD’s gun seizures.
He said the spike in firearms purchased statewide is likely a contributing factor.
“We saw this increase in the number of guns that were being purchased and huge increases in Texas in 2020 where you just simply have so many more guns that are available right now,” said Andresen, an expert on the study of guns who previously worked as a researcher for Travis County examining criminal justice issues.
Andresen, who earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, has also researched gun violence in New Jersey and ways to deter violent crime.
“So in San Antonio, as in a lot of other cities, you are seeing gun seizures and crimes that use a gun going up,” said Andresen, who added that frustration with COVID and its associated lockdowns may have also caused an increase in “gun using” behavior.
Data compiled by The Trace, a national nonprofit dedicated to gun-related research and reporting, shows a surge in gun purchases in Texas beginning last year.
The state saw an increase in gun purchases of 69% from 2019 to 2020 alone, according to The Trace, which derives its data from federal background checks, and in the case of Texas, from permits issued to people to carry concealed weapons.
A new law that went into effect at the beginning of September no longer requires Texans to go through training or to obtain a permit to carry a handgun in public.
“What hasn’t changed, however, is that the store is supposed to run some background check on you to make sure that you don’t have a mental health reason why you shouldn’t carry a gun or that you don’t have a felony that prohibits you from carrying that gun,” said Andresen.
Experts have repeatedly pointed out that the federal background checks, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), represents an undercount of the number of guns coming into individuals’ hands.
Since some of the firearms saturating San Antonio and other large cities will fall into the wrong hands, Andresen predicts that officers will face a difficult challenge in combating violent crime in the years to come.
“It’s going to be very hard for police, I think, to prevent these types of situations,” said Andresen.
Another public plea for answers
Lori Rocha knows all too well the torment that follows gun violence in the community.
On what would have been her son Aaron’s 30th birthday, Rocha made another plea for information about his murder, which remains unsolved nearly five years after it happened.
Aaron Rocha was a backseat passenger in an SUV driving on Huebner near Northwest Military in late November 2016 when someone in another vehicle fired several shots, injuring the driver and killing Aaron Rocha.
“They trailed them down and opened fire. Between here and by the time they got to this intersection my son was dead,” Rocha told the Defenders during an interview near the scene of the slaying. “I believe God took him instantly. He didn’t linger to suffer.”
SAPD officials have described the murder publicly as a “road rage” incident. Lori Rocha said detectives have told her it’s a complicated case to solve, because it appears the people in both vehicles did not know one another prior to the fatal incident.
San Antonio Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
Tips can be made anonymously by calling 210-224-STOP (7867) or through the Crime Stoppers website.
“I’d like to know, truly, are you going to stand before God a forgiven sinner or a convicted murderer? That’s a thought for them,” said Lori Rocha, when asked if she had a message for the person who killed her son.