Crime down slightly in San Antonio to start 2023 despite big jump in car thefts

59% jump in car thefts compared to Jan. - March of 2022

SAN ANTONIO – Reported crimes are down 2.2% overall in San Antonio for the first three months of the year, though a huge spike in car thefts is driving an increase in property crimes.

A San Antonio Police Department presentation on the first quarter crime stats Tuesday showed decreases in two of the three major crime categories: crimes against people and crimes against society. However, some specific crimes within those broader categories, including homicides, are up.

Crimes against property, which make up the majority of reported crimes in the city, are up 3.4%, which is due largely to a 59.1% increase of car thefts.

There were 4,292 recorded car thefts from January through March 2023 compared to 2,697 during the same period last year. These crimes are separate from car burglaries, in which a thief takes something out of the car.

“There’s just a lot of contributing factors why people are stealing vehicles,” SAPD Chief William McManus told the city council’s Public Safety Committee. “One, to take them down into Mexico and sell them. Two, is to commit other crimes.”

McManus told reporters after the meeting that SAPD did not have data to show the cars are, in fact, being sent over the border, but “conversations with other law enforcement agencies is that they’re heading to Mexico with them.”

The chief also acknowledged that social media trends for Kia and Hyundai thefts are contributing to the car theft statistics. The online challenge shows people how to break into a faulty ignition system without a key.

SAPD’s list of the top 10 most stolen vehicles for March is comprised entirely of Kias, Hyundais, and pickup trucks:

  1. Hyundai Elantra
  2. Ford F-Series
  3. Kia Optima
  4. Hyundai Sonata
  5. Dodge Ram Series
  6. Kia Soul
  7. Chevrolet Silverado
  8. Kia Forte
  9. Kia Rio
  10. Kia Sportage

READ MORE: Software update now available for Kia, Hyundai owners amid rise in thefts

SAPD crime statistics for Jan-Mar 2023 (City of San Antonio)

McManus also believes the department’s vehicle theft unit likely needs more investigators.

“So you know 18 folks for a million-and-a-half population, it’s just not enough,” he told the committee.

The chief also said the police department will overhaul its property crime investigation strategy starting in June, but would not elaborate on how.

Crimes against people, which covers assaults, homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping, and sex offenses were down 15.7% overall. The drop is largely driven by a lower number of assaults, which make up the vast majority of the category.

The department recently finished an 60-day hot spot treatment that was recommended as part of a broader plan for tackling violent crime. The tactic revolves around sending a single SAPD officer to sit in a hot spot for violence during peak crime hours with their emergency lights flashing.

The chief said he did not have any empirical data on whether that contributed to the lower rate of violent crime.

There was, however, a slight increase in homicides in the first three months - 47 compared to 44 in the same time frame in 2022. Statistics on homicides include both murders and justified killings.

Many of the homicides, McManus said, are linked to simple arguments. His presentation showed 19 of the year’s first 47 homicides were “argument related,” though the chief said he guaranteed “there’s probably some” of the 18 with an “unknown” motive that were also due to arguments.

McManus said that while there are exceptions, victims of violent crime are “most likely...engaging in a high risk behavior. You are doing something that is attributing to your higher risk factor of becoming a victim of assault.”

His examples of “high risk behavior” included involvement with a gang, buying or selling drugs, or being “out closing the bars down and you’ve had too much to drink.”

“I’m not victim blaming,” he told reporters after the meeting. “I’m simply saying that that certain behavior is going to raise your risk of becoming a victim.”

There were also an increase in the reported number of kidnappings and abductions, 24 compared to 17.

A string of attempted kidnappings attracted heavy media attention in March, which was followed by the arrest of an 18-year-old man for two of them.

Crimes against society, which include offenses like drugs or gambling, were down 8% compared to the first quarter of 2022. Police say this was largely driven by fewer reported incidents of pornography, prostitution, and weapons law violations.


About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.