San Antonio seeing a drop in some crimes amid COVID-19 restrictions

Almost a month after San Antonio, Bexar County and other area municipalities enacted stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of the coronavirus, officials have noted a side effect of the pandemic: a drop in some types of crime.

While San Antonio has seen a 12.7 increase in burglaries — 3,019 cases — from Jan. 1 to March 27 compared to last year, vehicle burglaries decreased by 8 percent for the same period, to 4,164 incidents.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and San Antonio Police Department also have reported a decrease in DWI arrests.

Officer Douglas Greene, an SAPD spokesman, said the agency made 318 DWI-related arrests from Feb. 21 to March 17.

Between March 18 and April 13, there were 147 DWI arrests. During that period, Mayor Ron Nirenberg ordered bars and restaurants to close and stay-at-home orders took effect for San Antonio and Bexar County.

“Forcing people to close up business and stay home has had an impact on alcohol consumption and driving. But, 147 is still a significant total,” Greene said.

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Last week, a suspected DWI collision resulted in a fatality.

On April 15, Hector J. Osorio, 60, was allegedly drunk when he drove the wrong way in the 10700 block of Interstate 37. At about 10 p.m., his Mercedes-Benz GLE 43 AMG collided head-on with a Ford F-150, killing 21-year-old Christopher Michael Farias, investigators said.

Osorio was arrested at the scene and charged with intoxication manslaughter. He was released April 16 on a $150,000 bond.

“The dangers are very much still out there but … the DWI unit is still out and keeping highways and roadways as safe as possible,” Greene said.

The fluctuations in crime also were noticeable in other cities that enacted similar orders.

The New York Police Department said this month that from March 1-11, the city’s crime index increased by 27.8 percent, from 2,296 to 2,934 crimes compared to the same period in 2019.

Between March 12-31, the index decreased by 19.9 percent, from 4,670 in 2019 to 3,740 this year.

Los Angeles Police Department statistics show all property crimes fell 15.5 percent, from 6,447 between Feb. 23 and March 21, to 5,446 between March 22 and April 18.

Other police agencies in Bexar County also have reported fewer crime-related calls.

Officer Matt Schima, a spokesman for the Cibolo Police Department, said there have been fewer calls from residents.

He said most burglaries occur while people are out at work. With more people at home, less burglaries are likely to happen during the day.

“People are staying at home and more people are on alert,” Schima said. “Criminals are aware of that, as well.”

In Leon Valley, Police Chief Joseph Salvaggio said overall crime has decreased in the Northwest Side suburb but noted an upward trend in vehicle burglaries and criminal mischief.

The city saw 36 vehicle burglaries in the first three months of this year, a 21 percent increase from the same period in 2019, which saw a quarter average of almost 30 cases.

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Thieves seeking an easy grab walk down streets or through apartment complexes and try door handles until they find an open vehicle.

“People have a mindset that if I leave my vehicle unlocked they won’t break anything,” Salvaggio said. “The reality is a vast majority of burglaries, if not all of them, occur because people leave their vehicle unlocked.”

The city has posted signs reminding people to lock their doors, take their keys and hide any objects from view.

Criminal mischief was up 50 percent, with 24 cases reported in the first quarter of 2019, and 36 reported in 2020.

Salvaggio said it’s to be expected when there are empty buildings and kids out of school with little to keep them occupied.

In Balcones Heights, Chief John Jahanara said overall crime was down, including domestic violence. Cases dropped from 120 calls in the first quarter of last year, to 54 calls this year.

Elmendorf Police Chief Marco Peña said crime initially slowed there as well, but complaints have increased in the last week.

DWI and drug arrests were down, but Peña said that was because officers were making stops only if absolutely necessary to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Last weekend, police there fielded a few calls for alleged domestic violence, including one sexual assault and one child abuse case.

“The trend is already happening where disturbances are starting to increase,” Pena said. “Shots fired calls are increasing. Some people are just shooting because they are bored and they want to shoot.”

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