Nearly 2,300 police officers patrol the streets of San Antonio, and Councilman Rey Saldaña said the issues are about the same as other cities of a similar size, but here in the Alamo City, the policing is different.
During a recent ride-along with Sgt. Shane Nagy on the city's south side, Saldaña watched as officers from several substations responded to a variety of calls, from a custody battle between exes to a man who ran from police atop a freight train.
The first-hand experience allows Saldaña to report back to residents who are concerned about a variety of topics.
"I tend to be a little more sympathetic when I go on a ride-along and you see calls coming in for say, shots fired or domestic disturbance where families are at each other's throats," said Saldaña. "Those go up to the priority list and so it's important to understand when I'm talking to residents that an officer can't be everywhere and when they can be somewhere, it's important that their at the most important calls where someone's life is in danger."
Dogwatch patrol, as Nagy calls it, can be full of surprises. Officers can double up in certain districts where more manpower is needed, or stay one officer to a district is less active areas. Saldaña thinks the police department does a good job of spreading its resources while maintaining effective policing.
"They've been very strategic about where they're putting the most amount of officers, whether it's narcotics or vice units," said the councilman. "So there's officers who are wearing plain clothes, going in undercover and so they're deploying their resources, I think, in an efficient way."
Most of all, Saldaña says, police officers are social workers; they encounter people during their most vulnerable moment.
Protecting and Serving the Community
Saldana calls it "community policing," and he thinks it is what makes San Antonio different from most police departments around the state and country.
"The main thing we want to do is we want to have a relationship with our community so that we can work together to lower crime and make the city that much better," said Nagy. "If the citizens are on our side, then it almost helps double, triple, our department cause those are like police officers for us. They help us."
While on the night patrol, a man flagged Nagy down who wanted to turn himself in for a traffic warrant. Saldaña wondered what caused the man to want to turn himself in for a minor violation.
"I represent the south side of San Antonio," Saldaña said. "And so I'm like, 'here's a guy who's turning himself in,' and so I was wondering what's going on."
The man, who wanted to only be identified as Jacob, said his wife kicked him out after a dispute, and instead of resorting to violence, he wanted to turn himself in and cool down.
"I'd rather turn myself in," Jacob said.
"And be in jail?" Saldaña asked.
"Yeah," said Jacob. "So I decided to, you know what, just take care of my traffic warrant, do my 19 hours or whatever incarceration, cool down, and tomorrow's another day. You know?"
Saldaña looks at the public safety situation in San Antonio through the scope of a councilman who has to deal with barriers to get things done. But he says he is happy with what he sees so far from officers in the field.
"We're fortunate that we're in a position that's not like a San Jose, it's not like a Dallas, where instead of saying 'how do we get more equipment,' they're saying 'how many officers do we have to lay off this year?'"
Saldaña knows there are problems in San Antonio, the same as anywhere, but he thinks the Alamo City is in much better shape than most.
And that's a perspective he can live with while he works with his colleagues on city council to increase the quality of equipment, the number of officers on patrol and resources to keep the streets safe.