Bexar County Commissioners authorize COVID-19 relief funds to target court backlog
Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday authorized the expenditure of $3.3 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to tackle a backlog of family violence and misdemeanor cases.
The funding will target a backlog of nearly 58,000 family violence assault cases and 235,000 misdemeanor cases stretching back to 2016. The pandemic's long interruption of court proceedings only made matters worse.
The funding will include pay for six new prosecutors and two investigators in the District Attorney's office, two visiting judges and other court personnel for the misdemeanor courts, and an additional clerk and bailiff for the civil district courts.
But County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores said prevention of family violence is not just up to the courts.
"As a former educator, I have to say that the end all, be all is not in the courts. It's also about the schools. It's also about the nonprofits," Clay-Flores said.
She added that she looks forward in the coming year to provide federal COVID relief dollars to nonprofits that help prevent family violence. Commissioners may also resume debate in January on the number of new investigators needed by the district attorney's office.
Of the millions approved for the courts and the DA, $542,000 will go towards the purchase of tamper-proof GPS wrist monitors to track defendants awaiting trial in more violent cases, including those involving families. The initial purchase will be for 300 of the monitors.
The county's director of judicial services, Mike Lozito, told commissioners the devices on defendants can be paired with an app on the smart phones of their alleged victims.
"A victim voluntarily loads a smart phone app that warns them when their security perimeter is breached and advise them to seek safety. Additionally, if they believe they are in imminent danger, an emergency button can be activated on the app that will immediately call 9-1-1," Lozito said.
He told commissioners there are currently 1,500 defendants subjected to court ordered GPS monitoring, with 589 of them awaiting trial in a family violence case.