Bexar County To Open New Magistrate Center; San Antonio PD To Process Own Detainees
Bexar County will use a new intake and health assessment center to magistrate people arrested by police and deputies beginning this fall.
The new $10 million intake facility is located near the Bexar County Jail. When it opens, people arrested anywhere in unincorporated Bexar County — or in its 26 suburban cities — will be booked there.
The new center is designed for open booking, which means those arrested can walk around freely, use wall mounted phones, or — while waiting for processing — talk with someone from the Bexar County district attorney’s office or public defender. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the facility is for those who have been arrested, not convicted.
“We want to treat them in a way that’s fair to them and not throw them in a cell with 20 or 30 other people that they don’t even know who in the hell that they’re getting thrown in with,” Wolff said.
He said the intake process would allow for better assessment of individuals.
“Many of them come in with a significant mental health issue, drug issue, physical injuries — we’ll be able to determine all of that. We’ll be able to better identify who they actually are,” he added.
County officials say the updated booking process is meant to move arrested persons out in a few hours. Mike Lozito, director of Bexar County judicial services, said according to a study by the Arnold Foundation, people held in detention longer are more likely to commit crimes when released.
“If you’re in jail for one day you become a 10 percent recidivist — and that’s individuals returning to jail; getting new offences. If you’re in jail two days, it’s 20 percent, and if you’re in jail three days it’s 40 percent,” Lozito said.
The center has seating for about 150 people in the open area and 50 in smaller holding cells and a separate waiting area for families to pick up people after release.
About 40 percent of arrests are made by the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, or one of the 26 suburban cities like Leon Valley or Shavano Park. The other 60 percent is made by San Antonio Police. The facility is designed to allow for officers to bring in detainees quickly and be back on the streets within about an hour.
Shavano Park Police Chief Ray Lacey said the design is a 180 degree turn from the current magistration process.
“And I’m not taking off from what San Antonio’s had forever because that’s a San Antonio police facility,” he said. “This is much larger, it’s designed to flow better for bringing prisoners in, getting the process done, and getting the officer back in the street and getting the prisoner locked up,” he said.
San Antonio Police are declining to use the new center. Those arrested in city limits will still be processed at the Central Magistrate Office.
Police Chief William McManus says the county was not able to prove its new facility would be fast enough.
“We would spend a lot more time over there than we do currently at our facility because of the way the processing would flow over here,” McManus said. “We would not be able to completely relinquish custody of the prisoner to the guards as we do now, so the processing flow is not what it needs to be to get our officers back on the street in a timely way as they are now.”
McManus said it’s unfortunate that the county went ahead and planned this new facility without any consultation from SAPD.
“We are their main customer,” he said. “We process over 60 percent of the arrests in the county, yet they did not feel it necessary to consult with us about the design of the new facility.”
But, while San Antonio has its own magistation process, once the city is finished processing a detainee, it will have to take the detainee to the county’s new facility for bonding. McManus said it would not be a duplication of effort.
“Once we turn them over to them, then what they do with them there has nothing to do with magistation,” McManus said.
The new intake center is expected to open by early October.
Joey Palacios can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @joeycules