When Oscar Alvarado of San Antonio was arrested for a traffic violation, an officer thought Alvarado was trying to swallow drugs to avoid getting busted and grabbed his throat, says the San Antonio Express-News. Alvarado allegedly threw punches and ended up in handcuffs. It was one of 7,800 arrests made by a new tactical response unit since Police Chief William McManus created it last year to snag violent criminals, drug dealers, and guns in high-crime neighborhoods. Alvarado had a clean criminal record and denied fighting police or having the marijuana joint that police say they found in the car.
His case, and others like it, raise questions about the unit’s sweeping method of stopping thousands of people for minor infractions, how often those stops turn violent, and whether the unit alienated some of the residents it was supposed to protect. The Express-News spent three months examining the unit. It used force to subdue only three of almost 1,000 Anglo suspects it arrested. Officers struggled with nearly six times as many minorities per 1,000 arrests, a disparity that a police expert called concerning. The unit has wrestled with the thorny issues of how to aggressively go after criminals in crime-ridden neighborhoods while avoiding a perception that police are harassing Hispanic and African American residents. “It’s a very fine line,” McManus said.