‘You can’t argue with the numbers’: SAPD say ‘hot spot’ policing strategy helped level off violent crime

UTSA’s violent crime reduction plan has finished its first year; SAPD and researchers say it’s a success so far

San Antonio – The San Antonio Police Department and criminologists with the University of Texas at San Antonio say a new “hot spot” policing strategy has helped fight violent crime in the Alamo City.

In a presentation to the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, Prof. Rob Tillyer from UTSA’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice said certain violent crimes leveled off in San Antonio in 2023 after rising for years.

From January to December last year, SAPD adhered to a strategy Tillyer and his colleagues had recommended: having officers visit high-crime areas, sit with their emergency lights on, and sometimes walk around.

“When this plan first rolled out, not a whole lot of people were happy with it because it just seemed too simplistic and — again, quite candidly — kind of boring,” SAPD Chief William McManus said about the view of the strategy within the department. “But the fact of the matter is, it’s working, and I think everybody has gotten used to it by now.”

UTSA Criminologists say certain violent crimes, including murder, aggravated assault, and robbery had been rising for years until leveling off in 2023 when SAPD implemented a 'hot spot' policing strategy. (UTSA)

The UTSA team’s study and planning revolves around a handful of specific crimes: murder, aggravated assaults, robberies of individuals, robberies of businesses, and deadly conduct. Citywide, the criminologists reported that those crimes dropped about 7% compared to 2022, while crime in the hot spot areas fell 34% during the times they were being “treated.”

The average number of incidents each month for four of the five categories dropped between 2022 and 2023, Tillyer said. Business robberies saw a small increase, from an average of 33 robberies a month to 34.

From January to December, Tillyer estimated police had tackled about 130 to 140 individual hot spots — grid areas of 100 meters by 100 meters — over the year, some of them multiple times.

“I would say that there is no doubt that it is having an intended effect on reducing violent crime, yes,” Tillyer told committee members.

McManus echoed that sentiment, later telling reporters, “You can’t argue with the numbers.”

But Tillyer also said he didn’t want to imply “that somehow this particular strategy in and of itself is wholly responsible for the reductions.”

It was a sentiment that District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez said he appreciated. The councilman, who represents the East Side, said the city has “so many other huge investments” attacking the root causes of problems, including crime.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, McKee-Rodriguez pointed to the city’s mental health response program, SA Core, investments in job training, and mental health resources.

“And so to evaluate or judge success in a silo doesn’t feel like we’re getting to the crux of it. There’s still a lot of distrust in the community that a program like this is going to yield long-term results,” he said.

The city began working with UTSA more than two years ago to develop a strategic plan to reduce violent crime.

The hot spot approach is the first phase. A second phase is meant to tackle the underlying issues that cause recurring problems in a particular area.

The city is still working out the specifics for the second phase, though it plans to focus on the 1300 block of Rigsby Avenue.

Conversations have only recently begun concerning a third phase that would have the city try to engage people who have been victimized or who have a history of violence and deter future violence.

But both phases will be “layered” onto the existing hot spot approach. And, even once all three phases have been implemented, McManus doesn’t see an end to the plan anytime soon.

“Once we get the mold in place, which is what we’re doing right now, it’s probably going to continue in perpetuity, at least for a while,” he told reporters.


Communities in high crime areas push for more resources

SAPD, UTSA Prof. say violent crime plan bearing fruit

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

Recommended Videos