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This year, some San Antonians may be heading to Fiesta with more than just cascarónes and medals in tow.
The state’s recently-enacted open carry law allows all licensed individuals to openly carry a holstered handgun in public spaces, prompting the San Antonio Police Department to broaden their scope of public safety consideration beyond the typical alcohol-related concerns at the annual Fiesta celebrations.
Licensed open carry of firearms will be permitted at any Fiesta event on public grounds with uncontrolled public entry and exit points, Police Chief William McManus said during the Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services Committee meeting on Wednesday.
However, other events like NIOSA, the Fiesta carnival, Oyster Bake, and those at La Villita and the Sunken Garden Theater will prohibit open carry, he said, since they are being leased out by private vendors. It’s difficult to anticipate exactly how many Fiesta-goers will be carrying handguns, but officers will be primed for enforcement measures, McManus said.
“If a vendor decides they don’t want folks coming in there with open carry, then they can prohibit it,” McManus said. “If someone does come in, they’ll be asked to leave and if they … refuse then they can be arrested for criminal trespass.”
According to McManus, SAPD will deploy a total of 3,703 officers during this year’s 11-day event, including bike patrol, the street crimes unit, and S.W.A.T. SAPD will also coordinate efforts with the Bexar County Sherriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Police officers and firefighters will occupy three “unified command posts for parades and other high profile events,” McManus added, including posts at La Villita, Market Square and the Fiesta Carnival.
“We will have, as always, a very high presence (and) high visibility at these events,” he said.
While he was unsure if there are annual spikes in alcohol-related crimes during Fiesta, McManus said that DWI patrols will be on duty through the TXDOT Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) Grant, which pays for overtime activities by local law enforcement to reduce traffic violations, including driving while intoxicated. Last year, he said, there were 226 DWI arrests during Fiesta, with zero fatalities.
After the festivities, SAPD will host a debriefing with officers to analyze their enforcement strategies in preparation of next year’s celebrations.
“We’ll look at things that maybe should have happened and didn’t, and we’ll look at things that … could’ve been handled better,” McManus said, adding that all of that information will be put into an action report for future use.
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who is the chair of the Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services Committee, urged all Fiesta participants “to be safe, be aware, be proactive, and be smart participants.”
To report incidents, call 210-207-SAPD, and in case of emergency, call 9-1-1.
*Top image: A police officer watches the crowd from high above during NIOSA 2015 at La Villita. Photo by Scott Ball.