SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council gave the go-ahead Thursday to pursue a federal grant that would allow SAPD to put up to another 50 new officers onto the street, but not everyone was on board.
Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) and Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) were the only dissenting council members in a 7-2 vote on whether to pursue a grant of up to $6.25 million through the U.S. Department of Justice, which would help pay for up to 50 new police officer positions. The pair of freshman council members, who represent the East and West sides, respectively, raised concerns about whether adding officers would help reduce crime and about the increase to SAPD’s budget that would result from it.
Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) was not present for the meeting, and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) was not there for the vote, though she had been attending the meeting virtually earlier.
SAPD, which currently has 2,503 authorized positions, plans to use the officers as part of a violence reduction plan it’s developing with the help of criminologists from UTSA.
“They would be assigned to the substations,” Chief William McManus told council members. “But as we work on this crime plan, which will affect the entire city, these officers would be primarily focused on that.”
The grant would cover up to three years worth of salary and benefits, though it also requires at least a 25% cash match from the city.
Once the grant is done, the city would have to fund the positions itself, and staff members say they would plan to keep the hired officers for the rest of their careers.
McKee-Rodriguez, who has been vocal about his concerns regarding any increases to SAPD’s budget - currently at $501 million - worried the city was committing itself to unsustainable budget increases.
“We keep adding police officers and our crime statistics continue to rise and it is beyond time to pursue additional options for preventing crime. We cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result,” McKee-Rodriguez said.
SAPD has 2,503 authorized uniformed positions. Beyond the 50 new positions pursuing this grant would add, the city also expects to add another 28 in Fiscal Year 2024 to help staff the planned St. Mary’s Street substation.
City staff members say both increases in the count of uniformed officers have been considered during the city’s budget planning.
McManus told reporters after the meeting that, to be a “proactive” police department, SAPD needs more police.
“You can’t be stagnant. It has to grow with the population, has to grow with the size of the city. And if it doesn’t, you know, you’re gonna leave yourself in the lurch,” McManus said.
Castillo argued there are other areas the city should invest in, such as housing or SA Metro Health, rather than police.
“It is politically convenient just to say, ‘oh, we need more officers,’ but it’s not working, and it’s putting more of my constituency in positions that’s hard to get out of,” Castillo said.
Other council members, such as Phyllis Viagran (D3), welcomed the promise of more police officers.
“I think, for me, this decision is easy. And, chief, you’ve been over in District Three. You know, they want more presence,” Viagran said.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg denied that the city’s plan for reducing crime was simply adding officers.
“We create safe, quality communities, not by virtue of bigger police departments but by creating and building community,” Nirenberg said, adding that he was more optimistic about the state of the city and future than ever before.
“And that is because we are united around this idea of ensuring economic opportunity for folks and breaking cycles, generational poverty. To me, if we want long-term relief from crime, we ensure that people have opportunity to thrive.”
ALSO ON KSAT.COM