A couple of different speakers in SA focused on the new authority granted to Texas police officers in 2007 to give citations instead of making arrests for certain low-level, non-violent misdemeanors - that was HB 2391, for those keeping score at home. I wanted to elaborate on their presentations so that folks in counties that have resisted using the new authority can see how it both saves money and keeps officers out on the street doing police work.
Major Scott Burroughs of the Travis County Sheriff's Office told the audience that his agency first proposed this idea in 2005. (As an aside, I've now heard about half a dozen different Sheriff's Departments and nonprofit groups claim credit for coming up with this idea - I first heard the idea from the jail administrator in Midland, Dennis McKnight who's running for Sheriff in San Antonio has long backed a similar proposal, and bill sponsor Jerry Madden told me it was former state Rep. Suzanna Hupp who brought him the bill. It always bodes well for the future of a political proposal when people argue over who gets credit for coming up with it!)
From Travis County's perspective, said Burroughs, the primary purpose of the bill was not to reduce jail crowding but to "create efficiencies for patrol officers." The TCSO's jurisdiction covers more than 900 square miles, he said, but all prisoners must be booked at a central facility in the heart of downtown. According to a handout Burroughs distributed (see his power point presentation):
- Because of several natural barriers in Travis County such as Lake Travis and the Colorado River, some officers must travel more than 50 miles to book a prisoner.
- Because of traffic congestion, officers often have to spend more than an hour to travel to the jail and more than an hour to return to their district after booking a prisoner.
- Some officers were out of district for four hours or more to effect a custody arrest. Because of staff shortages, some districts were unmanned during the entire process.
- The ability to issue field release citations cuts the time to effect an arrest to less than one hour in most instances and allows the officers to remain in their districts.
- "There is no mechanism for the defendant to be photographed."
- "There is no mechanism for the defendant to be fingerprinted."
- "There is no mechanism for processing the defendant into CJIS" (Criminal Justice Information Systems)
The defendant is ordered to appear before a magistrate so they may receive their warnings as required by Article 15.17. The Bill further states the magistrate, except for good cause shown, will release the person on personal bond. Once the magistrate performs their duties under 15.17, the defendant should be ordered to submit to the booking or intake process as a condition of their release on personal bond. All photographs, fingerprints and information needed for CJIS reporting may be collected at this time. Article 60.08 allows 30 days for CJIS reporting in these types of cases.So basically in these cases, after the defendant sees the Justice of the Peace, they head to the office of Pretrial Services to be interviewed for a personal bond, and processed as a "walk through" without ever taking up space in the jail. The next time you hear the argument that using this authority creates administrative headaches, be sure to explain how easily it's accomplished in Travis County.
Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation also discussed this legislation in his presentation, which was part of the panel where I presented. He pointed out that the bill allowed payment by mail if prosecutors opted not to seek jail time for these offenses. Levin also suggested that county commissioners could "designate misdemeanors that are non-jailable in that county, which also eliminates indigent defense costs." (See his power point presentation.) No county has taken advantage of that authority, yet, but it's a good idea.
I wanted to pass along this information because so many opponents of letting police use this new authority have wrongly claimed that it reduced public safety or created insurmountable administrative headaches. There have always seemed to me like very strong public safety and economic arguments for using this new authority, but clearly many in law enforcement are not yet convinced.
See prior, related Grits coverage of HB 2391:
- Tyler officials should listen to voters, use new tools to reduce jail overcrowding
- Note to MSM: Please stop repeating error on jail overcrowding law
- Counties balking at giving officers discretion on low-level arrests
- 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