by ANDY SEVILLA
After years of town and gown tensions inflamed by late night partying, noise complaints have plummeted in recent years due, Police Chief Howard Williams says, to later bar hours and education efforts by the city and Texas State University.
For the first time in recent memory, noise complaints did not top the list of calls for service to San Marcos police, Williams said. Since he joined SMPD in 2003, noise complaints “far-and-away” were the single most frequent calls for service in the city.
But calls for service related to noise have fallen nearly 24 percent since 2008 when they peaked at 2,917. Last year, the police department handled 2,226 noise-related calls. That trend holds up specifically for nighttime noise complaints as well. In 2011, the police fielded 1,664 complaints between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., a decrease of 27.5 percent since 2008 when the department handled 2,294 such calls.
Moreover, the decrease in complaints coincides with a far sharper decrease in the number of times police have had to make arrests or issue citations for noise violations. In 2008, cops took enforcement action against noise violators 307 times. In 2011, that number was 139, a 62.6 percent decrease.
“When (noise complaints are) the biggest problem that you have, and I’m not trying to minimize the fact that that is a problem. But it’s not robberies. It’s not thefts. It’s not dope dealing. It’s loud parties. That is an issue, but it’s not an issue that threatens the immediate safety of the community.”
Loud parties, Williams said, “do make it harder to sleep at night, but that’s a public order issue, not a public safety issue. And it’s still a serious issue, but when that’s your biggest call for service that we use to get, that marks to the fact that you’ve got a very safe community, there’s not that much crime that happens in San Marcos.”
In 2009, the San Marcos City Council voted to extend bar hours to 2 a.m. and a, year before that, the university and city launched the Achieving Community Together program aimed at communicating to incoming new students each semester the impact their behavior has on their neighbors.
Aside from dissipating noise complaints, the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report (UCR) shows that both, San Marcos and Hays County, have reported other crime reductions in 2011 compared to those reported in 2010.
Murders in San Marcos and Hays County were down by 50 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year, while sexual assaults were down in San Marcos from 13 to 11, and in Hays County from 17 to 4, in the same reporting period, according to the UCR.
“In a city of roughly 50,000 people, plus all the college students, and the transient population that are here every day, and the visitors to our malls, plus all the traffic we have… One murder is always a tragedy. I’m not trying to minimize the seriousness of any murder case. But one murder is not a bad number for a city this size. That’s actually pretty good,” Williams said, who reported one murder in 2011, compared to two in 2010.
Robberies, however, were up in San Marcos and Hays County from 2010 to those reported in 2011, the UCR showed. In 2010, there were 33 robberies in San Marcos, while the following year saw an increase of seven. Hays County had four reported robberies in 2010 and eight in 2011.
Assaults in Hays County went down from 611 reported offenses in 2010 to 549 in 2011, while in San Marcos, combined aggravated and misdemeanor assaults went up slightly, from 583 in 2010 to 586 in 2011. A small increase, Williams, says does cause concern, but he remains optimistic for San Marcos as a whole.
“It was actually a pretty good year, last year, as far as total crime calls, and total thefts. Our assaults when up a little bit so we’re pretty concerned about that, but on the whole, it was a still a pretty safe year,” Williams said. “Our crime rates, relative to other cities, are still pretty low. “
And that safety Williams spoke about regarding San Marcos seemed to resonate in Hays County as well. In Hays County, Cutler reported an overall 23 percent reduction in UCR reportable crimes in Hays County from 1,773 in 2010 to 1,351 in 2011. Cutler’s statistics showed decreases in burglaries, thefts, and assaults of 14 percent, 38 percent, and 11 percent, respectively.