SAPD wants more patrol officers, but city councilors focus on mental health

San Antonio – The San Antonio Police Department may be gearing up for record-breaking growth, but San Antonio City Council members are more concerned about how the city can quickly ramp up its promising, multidisciplinary approach to mental health counseling. They seem to be paying attention.

The city’s fiscal 2024 budget includes the addition of 100 new patrol posts and five police academy instructors to help recruit more officers. This is part of a five-year effort to strengthen the patrol department and give officers more time for “proactive” police rather than rushing from one to the next.

Combined with existing and upcoming mid-year budget adjustments, SAPD will begin fiscal year 2024 with 117 more unified positions this year than originally approved by the Council. This would be the largest year-on-year increase in the number of police officers since at least the early 2000s.

The proposed FY24 budget would result in the largest year-on-year increase in SAPD staff numbers since at least FY2000. (KSAT)

But at Wednesday’s Budget Committee meeting, which focused on police, fire, and court budgets, San Antonio city council members spent much of their time discussing the department’s plans for addressing mental health consultations, particularly SA Core. spent

“I think almost everyone has talked about this. We are telling the impact that we are having,” District 1 City Councilman Suk Kaul said.

In this program, a three-person team of police officers, firefighters, and mental health clinicians responds to mental health calls. In its first year, the team responded to 1,465 requests for service, and only six resulted in arrests.

In May, the former Council moved to expand the SA Core with two additional teams due to come online in January. City officials say they are considering nominating more teams for the 2025 academic year.

Current teams operate only in the downtown area and near the West Side, but city officials say three teams are enough to expand coverage across the city, if not 24 hours. ing. Like existing teams, the two new SA core teams will have his two shifts from 7am to 11pm.

SAPD Deputy Chief Karen Fawkes told city council members that time was chosen because it was a time of day when mental health calls were most likely to occur.

However, SAPD says members of the mental health department can also assist patrol officers, whether they are on duty or on standby.

The current SA core team also filters out calls containing weapons or physically aggressive people.

City councilors avoided discussing the details, but the death of Melissa Perez on June 23 appeared to cast a shadow over Wednesday’s budget deliberations.

Perez, 46, was shot and killed by a San Antonio police officer who appeared to be insane. SAPD said the mental health department was not dispatched to the scene prior to the shooting, which occurred around 2 a.m. Friday.

Three police officers were charged with her murder, and the family sued the city.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg cited “this summer’s incident” as the reason city councilors are concerned about the availability of SA cores, and Mr. Kaul later echoed the sentiment.

“Given that the mayor picked up on the incident earlier this summer, it would be really nice to have some idea of ​​what it takes to make this service 24 hours. Should we allocate an additional amount of money?” said the 1st District Council member.

City attorney Andy Segovia intervened and asked city council members to refrain from discussing specifics.

“Councilor, I would like to clarify my reference to this incident again, but I would like to clarify that there was no gap and that mental health services were available for that incident,” Segovia said. Told. “And I would appreciate it if you could limit the discussion to the general resources available and not talk about it.”

Deputy City Manager María Villagomez also told city council members that while not all mental health consultations could be addressed in the expanded SA Core program, the city would We are more focused,” he said.

“For example, in the Good Neighbors program, by analyzing certain addresses that receive many 911 calls, our approach is a proactive approach, and we can visit those homes to reduce the number of 911 calls. but more importantly, connecting those individuals to the service.”

SAPD has already launched advanced mental health training in March to help police officers identify people with mental health problems and “strengthen” their interactions with those at risk. said to have started. The ministry expects it will take three years to put everyone in the office.

Copyright 2023 by KSAT – All rights reserved.

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