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San Antonio takes public health lens to violent crime

San Antonio is embarking on an innovative approach to curb violence by treating it as a public health concern rather than relying solely on law enforcement. Recognizing that communities lacking essential resources are more vulnerable to both violence and health issues, the city is collaborating with community organizations to address crime comprehensively.

Understanding violence as a social determinant of health, the recently unveiled Violence Prevention Strategic Plan for San Antonio and Bexar County outlines tactics for reducing youth violence, gun violence, sexual violence, and domestic violence over the next five years. The plan, a collaborative effort by the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, the San Antonio Police Department, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and St. John Baptist Church, aims to tackle crime from multiple angles.

During a recent City Council meeting, Councilmember Jalen McKee-Rodriguez emphasized the connection between economic segregation, racism, and adverse public health outcomes.

Allocating approximately $11.4 million in the current fiscal year within the Metro Health budget for violence prevention, the city acknowledges the need for additional resources to implement the comprehensive plan.

Key strategies to reduce violence include investing in parenting programs and youth mentoring services, expanding gun lock and safe distribution programs, modifying court proceedings to support survivors, providing affordable transitional housing for domestic violence survivors, and incorporating education on healthy relationships in schools.

Councilmember Melissa Cabello Havrda sees the plan as a fresh perspective on public safety, acknowledging inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement. The city has been exploring alternative policing tactics since 2020, including a program involving mental health professionals and paramedics responding alongside police officers to certain 911 calls.

While San Antonio saw a decrease in homicides and violent crime last year, the state of Texas faces an alarming rise in children dying from gun violence, as reported by the Texas Tribune.

Moving forward, the city must establish benchmarks to measure progress on the plan, a challenge commonly faced in the public health field, according to city manager Erik Walsh. The initiative represents a significant shift in addressing violence, laying the groundwork for positive, long-term outcomes.

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