San Antonio Police Department Chief of Police William McManus speaks with Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). Photo by Scott Ball.

The San Antonio Police Department is a national model for big city police departments that embrace effective law enforcement reforms, Chief William McManus told a City Council sub-committee on Tuesday.

As the national debate and protest continues over police shootings of unarmed citizens like Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, elected leaders here and in other U.S. cities are pushing for the use of police body cameras and other changes and reforms to lessen the chance of such tragedies occurring. The subject was raised by almost every speaker at San Antonio’s annual MLK Day March and program at Pittman-Sullivan Park on Monday.

Click here to read more about body cameras.

The ubiquity of smartphones and the now widespread practice of citizens videoing police incidents they witness and posting the video on social media has intensified scrutiny of law enforcement everywhere and elevated the calls for reform.

“San Antonio has been working on this for years. We were ahead of the game before the national discussion started on police reform,” SAPD Chief William McManus told committee members, citing the department’s commitment to deploy body cameras and community-based policing.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) chairs the Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services Committee. She and fellow Council and committee members Roberto Treviño (D1), Mike Gallagher (D10), and Shirley Gonzales (D5), were all present.

Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) asks a question to SAPD Chief William McManus. Photo by Scott Ball.
Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) asks a question to SAPD Chief William McManus. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The majority of recommendations made by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in 2008, and a MATRIX review in 2010 were reviewed and implemented by the department, McManus said. Those recommendations, which addressed issues such as high-speed vehicle pursuits and low public trust have helped the department improve its efficiency and effectiveness using feedback from citizens and officers,  McManus said.

“One of the big areas that’s being talked about when it comes to police reform is how police deal with mentally ill people,” McManus said. “And as you know, many of our homeless folks are mentally ill.”

That is leading to the department to integrate its policing activities with local mental health service providers. The downtown vagrancy problem, and how to deal  with it has been cited as a major concern of downtown workers, residents and business owners.

“We’ve done that here by working with the Center of Health Care Services, by working with Haven for Hope,” McManus said.

In 2010, the department formed a Crisis Intervention Unit to bring the appropriate level of authority and police services to mentally ill individuals on the street. According to McManus, only 15 to 20% of departments in the country offer crisis training.

McManus played an ABC Dateline video that documented the Crisis Unit for the committee that profiled San Antonio’s crisis unit. The video showed several citizens contemplating suicide or self-harm who reached out for help from the SAPD unit. Responding officers were able to prevent any acts of violence or self-harm and help the individuals connect  with emergency and longterm health resources.

This type of crisis training will be essential to the “future of policing,” said SAPD Officer Ernie Stevens, who was featured in the video.

The unit also helps reduce the number of mentally ill people whose actions end up leading them to to be jailed. All San Antonio police officers are now required to complete 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) before they graduate from the police academy, and veteran officers are receiving the training and required now to meet the same standard.

Other Police Reforms

San Antonio Police Department Chief of Police William McManus observes a video clip from the television show Dateline. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Police Department Chief of Police William McManus watches a presentation. Photo by Scott Ball.

Earlier this month, McManus and Deputy Chief Anthony Treviño met with DOJ and PERF officials in Washington D.C. to discuss police performance standards. A second meeting scheduled will focus on SAPD training curriculum and tools.

The department is also working to meet the 21st Century Policing Task Force Initiative, as defined by President Obama, which encourages each participating city to create a task force and oversee the changes. The initiative outlines “six pillars of change” including:

  • Trust and Legitimacy
  • Policy and Oversight
  • Technology and Social Media
  • Community Policing and Crime Reduction
  • Training and Education
  • Officer Wellness and Safety

Each pillar is led by a task force formed by police and citizens that reviews the department’s performance. The task forces will report their findings by the end of January.

McManus acknowledged that a major challenge is to build greater community trust. He said the growing deployment and use of body cameras and data sharing will lead to greater transparency and community confidence in police.

“We also created a weekly crime report,” he said. “ It wasn’t online before, but citizens called and requested that we get it up.”

McManus didn’t expand on the status of body camera deployment on Tuesday, but the department has begun to assign  2,200 body cameras to park police and others, and will continue camera distribution through 2017.

Click here to read more about the department’s body camera timeline.

*Top Image: San Antonio Police Department Chief of Police William McManus speaks with Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.