Police Don’t Know What’s Behind This Year’s Spike in Murders

Police Don’t Know What’s Behind This Year’s Spike in Murders
Keith Allison via Flickr creative commons
August was a bloody month for San Antonio, with 20 homicides. That’s more murders in a single month than at any point since at least 2011, according to San Antonio Police Department stats. That also means that just eight months into 2016, San Antonio had already surpassed its 2015 homicide count by four murders.

The rise in homicides this year underscores a trend that local police officials have been struggling to understand and address. While at a national level, crime is at historic lows, violent crime in San Antonio has tracked upward over the past decade. In 2006, according to FBI stats, San Antonio saw 7,977 murders, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies. Last year, local police responded to 8,594 violent crimes, a near 8 percent increase over the decade. The violent crime rate in San Antonio, 5.9 crimes committed per 1,000 people, remains higher than the national average of 2.8 per 1,000 people. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus has said “there are no fact-based reasons why this is happening.”

Durant Frantzen, a criminologist at Texas A&M San Antonio who studies crime and policing in the city, says San Antonio’s not a sign of some larger national crime wave but rather one of just a handful of unlucky cities that have seen rising crime over the past several years. Why exactly that is has been tough to nail down. As he’s told us before, some of the overall increase could probably be blamed on population growth, or possibly even certain “social characteristics,” like the fact that San Antonio remains the most economically segregated city in the country.

Looking specifically at homicides, Frantzen called August, the last month for which SAPD data is available, an outlier. “I cannot see another month where we’ve had this many murders, maybe even in the past decade.” Which, he says, begs a whole lot of questions, chief among them: Where are these murders happening, and what’s the offender-victim relationship?

The city wouldn’t make any top officials within SAPD or the city manager’s office available for an interview last week. Still, when we reached SAPD spokesman Sgt. Jesse Salame, he told us that the department’s crime analysis unit has been studying the rise in homicides but has yet to come to any real conclusions or identify any trends. He says at the beginning of the year, police saw a cluster of murders on the Eastside, “four or five cases that happened in rapid succession,” but that the violence largely died down once the department made some arrests and beefed up its presence in the area.

While Salame insists “there’s no clustering, these homicides aren’t limited to one area,” violence is apparently still bad enough on the Eastside for Councilman Alan Warrick to call for PTSD treatment for people living in neighborhoods that still suffer frequent gunfire.

As for the victim-offender dynamics at play in a this year’s homicide count, Salame says that that too doesn’t seem to have followed a clear pattern. Still, he pointed to the number of “family violence murders, relationship-type murders” that this city seems to have seen a lot of over the past year. Salame’s ultimate analysis on this year’s murder count: “We don’t know what’s behind it. I don’t know if anybody does. There are very smart people all around the country that are trying to figure this out.” He points out that San Antonio’s worst year on record was 1992, with 239 homicides. “Thankfully we’re nowhere near that,” Salame said.

Frantzen meanwhile points to a recent Brennan Center for Justice report that lumped San Antonio in with a handful of cities where “crime and murder are projected to increase significantly altogether.” That report predicted San Antonio could see as many as 144 murders by the end of this year. According to this Channel 4 story from last week, we’re already hovering around 130 murders for the year. All of which leads Frantzen to worry that, when it comes to violent crime in San Antonio, “2016 is starting to look like a turning-point year.”
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