Yes, I know, Tiara Ellis reported in the Dallas News on New Years' Eve that the new law "is being used only in Travis County," and the AP included the line in the story y'all received over the wires.
But that's not true, okay? And promoting that idea discourages wider application of new officer discretion. Let's please nip this spreading meme in the bud that nobody but liberal Austin has chosen to use the new authority!
Offhand, I know Colorado County set up a system for officers to use new discretion, as did Jefferson County. According to media reports, the Hays, Navarro, and Palo Pinto Sheriffs also are letting deputies decide when to arrest.
Recently a prosecutor from Lubbock posted on the DA's User forum asking what other jurisdictions were doing with citations authorized under HB 2391. DA Ken Sparks from Colorado County replied that:
I gave each law enforcement agency a list of county court dates and told them to write a court date on the ticket that is approximately 60 days off. That gives us time to get the offense report, review it and file the charge if warranted. We do not issue a warrant unless the defendant fails to appear on the court date.I emailed Sparks to ask how often his county used the new provision and if they'd run into any logistical problems using it. He replied:
I anticipated it being used a lot more, but the reduction of the offense of driving while license invalid to a Class C misdemeanor, effective September 1, 2007, has resulted in less opportunities to employ this method. In 2006 29% of the cases on my county court docket were DWLI cases. In 2008 it will be less that 5%!So what this tells you is that, despite claims by Dallas County (whose jail is utterly stuffed) that "more research is necessary," big (Travis), medium-sized (Jefferson), and small counties (like Colorado) have all figured out how to make the new law work.
It is being used by two of the police agencies in my county because they are located about 15 miles from the county jail and it is a time-saver.
It is being used primarily for possession of marihuana cases. Since it is a small county, (pop. 20,000) the number of times it has been used is small.
From Sparks' description, it wouldn't surprise me if other rural counties are using the new authority, particularly where small towns may be some distance away from the nearest county lockup. (For juveniles, not every county has a detention center and in some cases out in West Texas police must drive more than 100 miles to the nearest pretrial youth lockup.)
Rather than dismiss the statute as just something for liberal Austin (Bexar officials more than Travis backed the proposal at the Lege, actually - their former jail administrator Dennis McKnight first came up with the idea), a better approach would be for reporters to localize the story, particularly in counties with jail overcrowding problems, by asking whether candidates for judge, county commissioner, Sheriff, and District Attorney support keeping more officers on the street by using this new law.
The truth is that whether to apply this new statute is entirely a function of decisions by elected officials. Even if current officials (e.g., Chuck Rosenthal in Houston) don't trust officers to make those decisions, their political successors might.
RELATED GRITS POSTS:
- Counties balking at giving officers discretion on low-level arrests
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- Tuff on crime meet reality at the Nacogdoches County Jail
- Sheriffs more likely than PDs to welcome new arrest discretion
- Jefferson County works out kinks with new cite and summons authority
- How one Texas county will take advantage of new law to reduce jail overcrowding
- HB 2391 could save Bexar taxpayers $10,000 per day
- Bexar jail administrator: Stop arrests for nonviolent misdemeanors
- DA Susan Reed blocking key Bexar jail overcrowding solution
- Midland Sheriff's Captain: Cite and summons for low-level offenses would reduce jail overcrowding
- Cite and summons for low-level offenses could free up jail space
- Texas Lege approved new tools to reduce jail overcrowding, if police can change their thinking
- DAs thwarting jail overcrowding solutions