Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Supervisors within the San Antonio Police Department now have sole authority and responsibility to open and close cases assigned to the detectives they oversee, Chief William McManus told a City Council committee Tuesday.
Detectives could previously close cases, but after an SAPD detective was found in October 2017 to have mishandled more than 130 crimes, the department formed an internal task force to develop recommendations for how to prevent that kind of negligence in the future. The task force also recommended monthly audits of caseloads.
"These recommendations have been communicated to all detectives throughout the department, and will be communicated again once the final changes are made [in February]," McManus told the five-member Public Safety Committee meeting.
The supervisory changes are one part of a two-pronged approach to make investigative practices more transparent to victims of crime. McManus also detailed changes in communication strategies that the department made to more formally let victims know the status of their case.
An informative card, written in both English and Spanish, will now be given to crime victims. The card provides phone numbers for eight investigative units in the event that a victim wishes to provide new information or receive an update regarding the status of their case, McManus said. It also explains that not all misdemeanor crimes are assigned to an investigator.
"The changes that we are implementing, that we have implemented, and will be implementing focus on victim service and internal accountability," McManus said.
The internal review process was assisted by outside feedback from community groups and third party consultants, he said.
Bob Stewart, president and chief executive officer at Bobcat Consulting, reviewed the department's standard operating procedure changes and said the chances of mishandling a case are now significantly lower.
"They've basically made it impossible for a case to be closed without some oversight and supervisory management," Stewart said. "Then it gets reviewed again at the end of the month through an audit process."
Special Victims Unit Detective Kenneth Valdez was fired in November, soon after it was revealed he failed to fully investigate sex and domestic violence cases, several of which were left un-prosecuted.
Councilman William 'Cruz' Shaw (D2) said he was glad the department brought Stewart in to give a third party review of the changes. Once on paper, Shaw said he was looking forward to reviewing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) when they are made available in the "very near future."
"SOPs are very fluid documents and we need to make sure that we continue to update it," Shaw said, who chairs the Public Safety Committee and is a criminal defense attorney.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said she was happy that community input helped shape the changes, but wondered if City Council could receive regular updates on SAPD's overall caseload status. Such metrics could help Council understand what's happening in communities and evaluate whether or not situations are improving, she said.
Sandoval suggested this kind of update during the committee's November meeting.
"I think the Chief made progress on other recommendations that we had," Sandoval said. "I just wanted to make sure this didn't fall off his radar."
McManus said SAPD hasn't yet had a chance to formulate a proposal about caseload updates to the committee, but acknowledged he would get back to her.