San Antonio Police Department

  • Does risk of police chases outweigh benefits of capturing suspects?

    I had always wanted to write a story about police chases after I watched a crazy high-speed pursuit unfold on local TV. I wondered how often these chases go bad, and how the San Antonio Police Department keeps track of that information.

    Police chases in San AntonioLaw enforcement agencies usually churn out paperwork for every situation known to man. I made some phone calls and learned that officers must fill out a pursuit-evaluation form after they chase someone. The reports have check boxes for different categories of information, such as whether someone was injured during the chase. When you see boxes like that on a report, chances are, some hapless soul at the government agency types that information into a database. It turned out SAPD has been compiling a database that tracks details of every chase by all its officers.

    If you work for a news organization or a blog and stumble upon a previously unknown database filled with rich details about an important public policy issue, you’ve found a great story. Request a copy of the raw data and analyze it. You might be able to tell your audience something new about the world.

    SAPD’s pursuit database formed the foundation for my story that ran Sunday. The numbers show that two out of five pursuits damaged cars or property. The number of chases and crashes peaked in 2008, but dropped in 2009 after SAPD emphasized vehicle safety to its officers:

    Here’s a copy of the raw data for the years 2003-2009. To me the numbers highlight the difficult position officers are in during a police chase, but they managed to make progress last year.

    Getting the data was important. But it didn’t tell the full story — it was missing narratives describing what happened during the chase. The narratives were written down in the hardcopy pursuit reports. So I requested copies of reports for a bunch of chases, including a pursuit that led to the most recent death of an innocent bystander in San Antonio, 85-year-old Edna Hurst:

    Pursuit-evaluation report describing a police chase by the San Antonio Police Department by John Tedesco

    I also asked for a copy of SAPD’s pursuit policy. It describes the situations in which officers are permitted to pursue suspects. The policy also mentioned that Blue Eagle, the police helicopter unit, is supposed to videotape pursuits if the helicopter is able to assist. So I asked for some videos and came across this incident involving a reckless driver of a pickup truck, which I thought was a good example showing the dynamics of how officers handle chases.

    The chase database doesn’t show the location of where the pursuit begins. But it does have a case number for each chase. Using that number, Mike Howell of linked the data to Crimebase, a gargantuan data file of offense reports we receive from SAPD. Mike made an interesting map showing where chases occurred in the city in 2009. Click on a chase, and it calls up details from the pursuit data, and a link to a Crimebase report with a brief narrative.

    The point of all this work isn’t to make SAPD look bad. It’s to offer people relevant information about a life-or-death issue. I learned a lot working on this story. If we did our job right, so did our readers.

  • Data reveals challenges and risks of police chases by the San Antonio Police Department

    Police chases in San Antonio

    The San Antonio Police Department keeps a unique database that documents every police chase by SAPD officers. I’m working on a story that will be published Sunday that’s based on an analysis of the data. We’re examining the challenges and risks police officers face when they try to catch a suspect in a high-speed chase.

    If you’re an SAPD officer or someone who’s been involved in an accident related to a police chase, feel free to contact me.

  • San Antonio police officer accused of digging up personal data of women while on duty

    Brian Chasnoff, reporter for the San Antonio Express-News
    Earlier this month, Express-News reporter Brian Chasnoff learned the San Antonio Police Department was investigating one of its own, officer Gabriel Villarreal, after a woman complained about the officer’s behavior. The woman worked at the Art of Shaving boutique at the Shops at La Cantera. She met Villarreal and his family and sold him $400 in shaving supplies. A day later, Villarreal showed up at her apartment — in uniform — claiming he was checking up on a 911 call from her home:

    “He just looked around and said, ‘Well, maybe your husband called,’” she said.

    She told him she was not married and no one could have called 911. The officer responded that sometimes fog can set off the 911 system, the woman said.

    “I think he asked to come in,” she said. “He came into my house. I let him in to see there was no emergency.”

    The officer then pointed out that the woman had sold him shaving supplies the previous day.

    “I said, ‘What a coincidence! You’re here!’” she said. “I didn’t get it.”

    Small talk ensued.

    “He wouldn’t leave, and he wouldn’t leave,” she said. “It kind of felt weird in my home.”

    The officer left after about 20 minutes. A friend later urged her to report the incident.

    Last week, Villarreal was indefinately suspended, which is tantamount to being fired. In such cases, an officer’s disciplinary records become public. Brian obtained the SAPD documents, which detailed a disturbing pattern of Villarreal using police equipment to look up personal data and joke about at least seven women:

    San Antonio police officer accused of digging up personal data on women while on duty by John Tedesco

    From today’s story:

    The violations involve at least seven women and occurred through October, November and December 2009, according to the city’s findings, which allege the following:

    For “personal” reasons, Villarreal researched the criminal history of an apartment manager in his patrol district. In conversations via car terminals, Villarreal and another officer referred to the woman by “nicknames for her breasts.”

    Villarreal and another officer also held an “extended” electronic conversation about two other women in which “a comment is passed back and forth about whether (Villarreal) ‘knocked’ or ‘knocked it out,’ referring to sex.”

    A few days later, Villarreal ran the registration of a Mercedes-Benz owned by another woman and sent it to a fellow officer. The pair then discussed her “personal physical attributes, her breasts and her attractiveness.”

    From the registration information, Villarreal then pulled more of that woman’s personal data, including calls for police service to her home address, her social security number and her municipal court files.

    The investigation showed that Villarreal was on duty when he knocked on the door of the woman from the Art of Shaving. He had been dispatched to an assist-the-public call, handled it quickly, then drove to the woman’s house without notifying dispatchers.

    At some point Villarreal’s wife learned what the police investigation found — she returned the $400 in shaving supplies.

  • San Antonio police reports go missing

    Front page story about San Antonio police reports in the San Antonio Express-NewsExpress-News Reporter Brian Chasnoff uncovered a serious paperwork problem at the San Antonio Police Department in his front-page story today: 2,300 police reports documenting a wide variety of crimes have gone missing.

    Brian wrote:

    The San Antonio Police Department has misplaced more than 2,000 police reports ranging from thefts and car wrecks to more serious offenses of rapes and assaults, according to internal police documents obtained by the San Antonio Express-News.

    Now, the Police Department is scrambling to “recover and correct the open cases so all reports are properly received, entered and accounted for,” according to an internal memo that a deputy chief sent last week to Police Chief William McManus.

    Nice example of local investigative reporting.