SAN ANTONIO - In an effort to cut costs, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus initiated a three-phase plan to take 74 patrol cars off the streets and save more than $1.05 million, according to the San Antonio Express News.

The first phase, which began Jan. 15, removed 13 patrol cars from three police districts and paired up 26 officers to ride in remaining patrol cars. "We'll still have the same amount of manpower," Police Department spokesman Sgt. Chris Benavides said, "but we're eliminating those vehicles."

He said McManus proposed the idea at a City Council meeting in October as a way to save money. Though some elements of the program could change, the ultimate goal - to remove 37 patrol cars each fiscal year for two years - will likely remain the same, Benavides said.

Before the program, officers in the Central, East, and South substations arrived separately to calls requiring backup. Now, Benavides said, dispatchers send a two-man unit to calls like shootings, robberies in progress and family-violence incidents.

"This should increase officer safety and cut down on response times," he said. "During this first phase, the program will be continuously evaluated to ensure that we have optimal results."

Although Benavides and Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, were unaware of any officer complaints about the new program, Helle did express concern that the changes ultimately could hurt response times.

"The total of 74 cars that they want to take out of the fleet, I think that's just too dramatic," he said. "If you double up on too many officers, you're going to cut officers that could be responding to calls."

Benavides said police looked at all six substations and determined the substations selected for the first phase responded to the most calls requiring backup. Eventually most - or all - substations will be affected, according to city documents.

Police will evaluate the first phase for 10 days in mid-February, documents showed, and will pull 24 more cars March 5 in the program's second phase.

The third and final phase was scheduled to begin Sept. 30. The details of the evaluation process in the third phase remained unclear.

"My hope is that they have genuine identifiers to establish if it's working or not," Helle said. "Chief McManus has assured me that he'd be monitoring it, and if the program wasn't working the way he wanted to, then he'd cut the program."

Benavides said pairing officers in patrol cars would lower operating costs. Helle said plans also included selling the 74 vehicles, reported the Express.