SAPD, UTSA Prof. say violent crime plan bearing fruit

‘Hot Spot’ approach relies on increasing police visibility in high-crime areas

SAN ANTONIO – A plan to combat violent crime in San Antonio is off to a promising start, according to San Antonio’s police chief and the University of Texas at San Antonio professor overseeing it.

The violent crime reduction plan created by UTSA Criminology and Criminal Justice Prof. Michael Smith and his colleagues consists of multiple strategies, though only the short-term “hot spot policing” has been implemented. But Smith told members of the city council’s Public Safety Committee in a presentation Tuesday that data from January through June appeared to show it was paying off.

“So the theory behind the strategy is if we can reduce violent crime in the most crime-producing areas, that we can then potentially move the needle across the entire city. That’s the pattern that we hope to see, and -- at least so far -- that is indeed the pattern that we’re seeing,” Smith said.

The hot spot strategy boils down to dividing the city into 100-meter-wide grid squares, identifying which grid areas have the most violent street crimes, and then having officers sit in the area during peak crime hours with their emergency lights flashing as a highly visible deterrent to crime. The goal was to have officers do this for 15-minute spurts.

SAPD treats about 35 grids for every 60-day treatment period.

The overall rate of specific violent street crimes like robbery, non-family aggravated assaults, murders, and deadly conduct was down 12.6% citywide, according to Smith’s presentation. But the areas given the extra attention were down 41.5%.

However, Smith noted that those crimes had been rising for several years

“It’s important to understand that while we have initially flattened the curve of violent crime in San Antonio through the first six months of the crime plan, violent crime remains substantially higher in San Antonio than it was prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus also presented the city’s crime statistics for the year through September during the meeting.

Though crime compared to the same period last year is up 1.5%, it’s primarily due to a 6.3% bump in the “Crimes Against Property” category, particularly car thefts.

The “Crimes Against Persons” category, which includes most violent crimes, was down 10.9% compared to the same period last year.

“The news from the violent crime reduction plan has been nothing but good news over the -- since January. And notwithstanding the violent crime reduction plan, our numbers were dropping as well. So that’s kind of a double hit that we’re looking at from a good point of view,” McManus said.

The plan’s later stages include a focus on tackling the underlying issues that contribute to recurring problems and deterring “repeat and high-risk offenders.” The specifics of those stages have not yet been rolled out.

Smith recommended the hot spot policing tactic be continued even as those later stages are implemented. He said the plan was purposely designed to be “layered.”

McManus said, “I don’t see why we wouldn’t” keep the strategy going if it continues to generate positive results.

San Antonio’s new plan to tackle violent crime

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.