San Antonio's 'hot spot' policing program draws criticism from city council members

The program includes higher police activity in 28 areas around San Antonio, which reportedly have higher levels of violent crime.

click to enlarge San Antonio Police Chief William McManus assured city council members that SAPD's program is different than the one in Memphis that came under fire after the death of Tyre Nichols. - Screen grab / SAPD Facebook
Screen grab / SAPD Facebook
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus assured city council members that SAPD's program is different than the one in Memphis that came under fire after the death of Tyre Nichols.
An initiative launched by the San Antonio Police Department to boost officers' activity in 28 parts of the city with high levels of violent crime is drawing criticism from at least two council members.

The Violent Crime Reduction Plan, which employs a strategy known as "hot spot" policing, is a multiyear project developed in conjunction with criminologists at the University of Texas at San Antonio, according to media reports.

Despite San Antonio's rising crime rate, specialized police tactical units have come under fire in recent years. Most recently, the Memphis Police Department's Scorpion Unit, which specialized in hot spot policing, was disbanded after five officers beat Tyre Nichols to death during a controversial traffic stop.

"Residents across San Antonio have demanded neighborhood improvements and social services for decades rather than the criminalization of poverty," Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia, whose District 4 includes a swath of West and Southwest San Antonio, said in an emailed statement. "Solely focussing on crime statistics and modifying policing practices does not illustrate the root cause of crime."

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo shared similar concerns about concentrating police in predominantly lower-income communities of color.

"My overall concern is the human collateral damage with hyper-concentrating police in lower-income communities of color," Castillo, whose district also includes Southwest San Antoni, told Axios.

In public comments, Police Chief William McManus has said San Antonio's hot spot policing program is different from Memphis' Scorpion Unit. SAPD officers won't use undercover vehicles, and they won't exit their patrol cars unless responding to an unfolding crime or emergency.

SAPD hasn't publicly released the locations of its 28 "hot spots," which it said are areas with exceptionally high rates of homicides, aggravated assaults and robbery.

Phase 2 of the plan, which will be implemented in the next six to 12 months, entails collecting and analyzing data to determine the underlying crime-causing conditions and working with city departments to address them, the Express-News reports.

Phase 3, which won't be implemented for at least another year, aims to change the behavior of high-risk offenders by providing them access to social services including job training and GED classes.

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Michael Karlis

Michael Karlis is a Staff Writer at the San Antonio Current. He is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., whose work has been featured in Salon, Alternet, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Orlando Weekly, NewsBreak, 420 Magazine and Mexico Travel Today. He reports primarily on breaking news, politics...

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