San Antonio police could hire 50 new officers

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A grant application to expand San Antonio’s police force by up to 50 officers divided the city council Thursday on how best to reduce crime in a fast-growing city.

City officials will seek up to $6.25 million from the US Department of Justice, which would be spread over three years.

The Board approved the request 7-2, with first-term Board members Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and Teri Castillo voting no. District 7’s Ana Sandoval and District 8’s Manny Pelaez were absent for the vote.

McKee-Rodriguez and Castillo consistently opposed increasing the size of the police department. Instead, they say, the city should be spending more taxpayer dollars to tackle the root causes of crime.

“We continue to add police and our crime statistics continue to increase. It’s high time to research additional options to prevent crime,” said McKee-Rodriguez, who represents District 2 on the East Side. “We can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.”

Texas law prohibits San Antonio and other cities from cutting police resources.

City officials have pledged to keep public safety spending below 66% of the general fund. The subsidy requires a counterpart from the city budget.

The city should also employ the officers for at least one year after the grant ends. However, City Manager Erik Walsh said the new officers would be kept on the payroll indefinitely.

McKee-Rodriguez has been hesitant to commit to future budget increases, wondering if the city could afford the officers when the grant runs out. Castillo, who represents District 5 on the East Side, said she is concerned about cutting city services in the future due to increased spending.

But Deputy City Manager María Villagómez said San Antonio’s five-year financial forecast included grants and still showed a balanced budget that kept public safety spending below 66%.

San Antonio has fewer police officers than cities of comparable size. The city has a rate of 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents, Police Chief William McManus said. Nationally, cities had an average of 2.4 officers per 1,000 citizens, according to a 2017 federal report.

Even with other crime prevention tactics in play, San Antonio needs more police to speed up response times, McManus said.

Other council members have expressed a desire to increase the city’s police force as San Antonio faces a rise in homicides similar to the rest of the country.

District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, who represents the Far West Side, said she’s hearing from residents who want more police presence.

As the city’s population grows, crime follows, said Clayton Perry, who represents the northeast side.

“You need more patrols out there — you need more law enforcement to get out there and keep the bad guys off the streets,” Perry said.

Adding up to 50 new police officers isn’t all city leaders need to prevent crime, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. Walsh said the city’s Ready to Work job training program, child care assistance and public parks are also important for crime prevention.

District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo, who sometimes votes for McKee-Rodriguez and Castillo, questioned the budget and the impact of the new officers, though he ultimately voted for the grant application.

“Every member of this council has a personal priority to make our community as safe as possible,” Bravo said. “The only reason we’re having this conversation is because some of us are wondering if more handcuffs in prisons will achieve this outcome.”

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Twitter: @megstringers

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