City and county end rift over Justice Center
Bexar County and city of San Antonio officials agree: One intake and detention center is better than two.
That was the gist of a recent news conference at Plaza de Armas where city and county officials stood side by side and pledged an agreement is in the works to make Bexar County’s new Justice Intake and Assessment Center work.
But they didn’t announce an agreement, and until that happens, nothing will change. The city will continue to book people at its outdated Frank Wing Municipal Court building, which one expert has labeled “a dungeon.” The county will continue to book people at its new center, which follows best practices, but has some design flaws.
This pledge to work together on a solution is still good news. The city and county are committed to together finding a way forward. This is real progress.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the plan is to enter into an agreement in late spring, with implementation by the end of the year, or perhaps a bit later, depending on renovation work at the county’s new building.
In some ways, the biggest obstacle has been political, but this news conference clears that hurdle.
What are the obstacles to an agreement?
The next step is for the county to assure city police officers can quickly return to their beats after dropping off arrested subjects. The public is served by as many officers as possible on the streets at all times.
The new building needs a property room to store backpacks and other belongings of arrested people.
The building needs dedicated space to process Class C misdemeanors, people with warrants for unpaid tickets.
The building would also benefit from larger entry space, an expanded DWI center and larger courtrooms for bail hearings.
This may sound like a lot, and it is, but it’s also within the realm of the possible. It’s also far superior to a prolonged impasse and continued use of two buildings. That is a waste of tax dollars.
Two intake centers means two sets of detention officers and two sets of judges. It means having public defenders and prosecutors present at two buildings for bail hearings.
Such redundancy is untenable.
Police Chief William McManus and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said they have had incredibly productive meetings to address the city’s design concerns.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in some instances officers are exiting the building in about 10 minutes.
New City Manager Erik Walsh attended the news conference, and he has an opportunity to reset city-county relations on this and other issues.
In short, the news conference struck a markedly different tone than past city and county comments about the Justice Intake and Assessment Center. Officials were showing the public a willingness to work together.
All city residents are county residents, and most county residents are city residents. The public is best served when the city and county can work together.
Hopefully, the next news conference on this issue is to announce a formal agreement.