San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) met with nearly 40 near-Eastside neighborhood residents on Tuesday night who listed several criminal threats in the neighborhood.
Drug dealers sell outside neighborhood homes and businesses, gang violence plagues the streets, local police respond slowly, if at all, to calls for help, they said. Many residents are used to it, zip codes in the Eastside have some of the highest crime rates and lowest incomes, but they're looking for potential solutions, starting with a community-police partnership.
"Listing problems is easy (and important), but we're going to be looking at solutions," said Warrick, who represents the Eastside district, the largest district in the city. "We're really looking at New Braunfels (Avenue) into Hwy 281-US 37, and completing what we want to do on a sweep here before we move out to the rest of the district."
The Police Department already offers the San Antonio Fear Free Environment (SAFFE) program, and SAFFE officers are an important part of the City's community policing efforts, McManus said. Officers were present to meet and exchange contact information with residents at the meeting.
"We need to form a group, and we need to have that group identify the crime and quality of life issues in your neighborhood that concern you," McManus told residents crowded inside the Ella Austin Center. The issues will then be prioritized, and then sent to appropriate City departments to begin to formulate longterm solutions.
"This can't be a flash in the pan," McManus added. "A monthly meeting isn't going to be enough, it's going to take a lot of work from a lot of different groups of people to stop this crime from happening."
McManus said the strategy has helped reduce crime rates in other parts of the city, most recently on the Southside.
"You need to be seen more, you need to be on the street and visible" said Betty Green, who has lived in the same Eastside home for more than 50 years. "It's about relationships, they do help, they can be lasting."
Several residents credited recent SAPD "block walks" – uniformed officers walking the streets, talking to civilians – with scaring off several gang members and preventing some criminal activity in the area.
McManus agreed that this strategy bolsters community relationships and is a important crime prevention tool, but an increased police presence is only part of the solution.
"Trying to outlast the problem by being there is not a longterm, viable strategy," he said. "We know block walks help, and the community appreciates them. We will be doing those, but if we use constant pressure through different City departments, then we can create successful solutions."
San Antonio Housing Authority staffers described similar efforts in other cities like Kansas City and Austin that successfully partnered with police departments to decrease violence, drug use and overall crime in their respective areas.
"This area is in transition,"said Beverly Watts Davis, director of Choice Neighborhood Programs. "Part of the reason we're having to fight so hard is that we're fighting criminals for this territory, and right now we are winning."
Citizens passed around sign-up sheets for future meetings and exchanged phone numbers to start planning neighborhood sessions before leaving the meeting.
The District 2 office and SAPD will coordinate another meeting in the coming weeks. Residents will be invited to identify issues and then begin divvying up issues to the appropriate City departments.
For more information on the community policing group or future meetings, call (210) 867-7292.
*Top image: "It might as well be called Murder Lane," Rev. Ruth A. Martin, a local beauty salon owner, told Chief McManus of North New Braunfels Avenue. Photo by Lea Thompson.