Number of fires and some crimes in San Antonio rose as the city grew in 2022
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The San Antonio Police Department reported this week that crime against people and property were both up for the first three quarters of this year compared to 2021.
The biggest property crime increases were vehicle thefts and burglaries, both up by 30%. Overall crimes against persons were up 4%.
Vehicle thefts are a big concern as the holiday shopping period begins and purchases are left inside vehicles in view of thieves.
Karen Falks, an assistant chief of police, told the Public Safety Committee that police targeted 60 violent hotspots across the city to reduce overall violent crimes.
"In a total of the first three quarters of the initiative, we saw a total reduction of violent crimes in those areas we worked," she explained.
Police increased their presence in those hotspots, described as seven block areas where five or more violent crimes had been reported in a three-month period, cutting crime by 52%.
Two hundred and ten homicides were reported during the first three quarters of this year, an increase of 66% over 2021. Those numbers were greatly increased by June's 53 migrant truck smuggling deaths.
Police also reported during the same period that assaults were up by nearly 5%, sex offenses rose less than 1%, human trafficking jumped 20%, robberies dropped less than 1%, thefts increased by 18%, and vandalism was up by 11%.
During the meeting, some members of the committee all said San Antonio's population growth played some role in the increase in crimes and fires.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported the city welcomed 35,000 new residents in 2021 alone. Those numbers were big enough to make San Antonio the eighth fastest-growing city in the country.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told the committee firefighters responded to 566 structure fires so far this year, a 25% increase over 2021.
He said there have been 14 fire deaths this year, compared to 10 in 2021. The average age of the fire victims was 65, and smoking materials were the cause of some of the deaths.
Hood said there was a 95% spike in grass and brush fires in the city in 2022 compared to the previous year. Many of the 3,072 incidents this year were started by cigarettes tossed from moving vehicles into grassy medians.
"Those continue to increase at an alarming rate. They are very dangerous fires for us because we are out on the freeways trying to put these fires out," he said. "The environment is smoky. People don't see."
The chief also expressed concern about fires in vacant structures as the unhoused seek places to shelter from the cold winter. He said sometimes they start a fire inside those structures to stay warm, which often leads to a dangerous situation for firefighters.
He said there has been a 26% increase this year compared to last when it comes to fires related to unhoused persons. Hood said the department is now posting signs on vacant buildings that read "Dangerous Structure" to let arriving firefighters know they should not risk their lives saving it.
Hood pledged that no firefighters in San Antonio will die trying to save a vacant building engulfed in flames.