The San Antonio Police Department’s plan to slash a program serving some of the city’s most vulnerable residents is drawing fire from the community. To meet its $1.6 million in expected reductions amid a city budget shortfall, SAPD opts to cut half of the civilian staff from its Crisis Response Team (CRT), a program that monitors reports of family violence and takes steps to intervene.
Comprised of one civilian counselor and one police officer, the victim’s advocacy program, housed at police substations across the city, works with both victims and abusers to stop domestic violence by fielding calls, making house visits and providing counseling. In the FY 2014 budget proposal, SAPD lays out plans to eliminate 10 of its 20 total civilian caseworker positions.
Patricia Castillo, executive director of the P.E.A.C.E Initiative, a local non-profit made up of 48 public and private groups dedicated to ending family violence, considers the cuts of “grave concern” to her coalition. She says the move would erase more than two decades of hard work in ensuring protection from continued domestic danger. “The cuts are going to be a huge impediment to being able to reach out to families experiencing violence,” she said.
The program has struggled with lack of funding in the past. Castillo recalls the days before CRT saw an infusion of dollars, when workers were “overloaded and overworked.” Cutting staff could put teams back in the same spot, “Leaving the city with just half of what we are accustomed to is not only going to cut services but it’s going to pile on the work for the remaining 10 teams—they’re going to get burned out right away.”
It’s not just advocacy groups that are voicing discontent. When asked to weigh in on which city services they don’t want to see scaled back, several participants at a community budget hearing last week expressed concern over cutting CRTs, characterizing the program as essential and its workers as doing “a job that most people will not do.”
Mayor Julian Castro, who has in the past pushed for the creation of additional teams, also chimed in, opposing the reductions. The CRTs have been an “effective tool to prevent domestic violence in San Antonio,” he said in a statement. “The cuts to this vital program ought to be fully restored.”
Why downsize a program with such community and City support? In an e-mail, Police Chief William McManus defended the potential cuts, saying the reductions were “carefully evaluated in an effort to ensure we continue to carry out the core functions” of SAPD. He doesn’t anticipate any of the proposed reductions to impact “public safety or the delivery of service.”
But according to SAPD’s own figures, the need for the program slated for a cut appears to be on the rise.
Domestic violence calls for service increased from 43,791 to 45,008, or 2.8 percent, from 2011 to 2012, the most recent department report shows. All six of the service area substations saw an uptick in calls last year—with one Westside center receiving nearly 12,300 calls in 2012 alone. The department tracks incidents that result in actual criminal activity with offense reports—three of those centers showed an increase in domestic violence reports and in total there were more than 10,000 documented reports of domestic violence last year. Comprising more than 10 percent of homicide cases in 2012, family violence-related murder has been on the rise here since 2008.
“We have to speak up and be clear about what we’re willing to give up,” says Castillo. “You’re going to save a few hundred thousand dollars but what is it going to cost us in terms of lives, in terms of potential homicides, potential murder-suicides? Because that’s what these cases can lead to—is it really worth it?”
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