Monday, July 14, 2008

On the sources of volitional jail overcrowding in Bexar County: Why solve a problem when you can create one?

Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed must pride herself on an overcrowded jail, because she's insisting on policies that keep it needlessly full.

Bexar County jails probationers based on flawed drug tests and insists on jailing petty pot smokers - often for only a few hours - even when the jail is jam packed. Meanwhile, Bexar keeps more misdemeanor defendants in jail pending trial than any other big Texas city. Virtually the entire jail overcrowding problem in Bexar is volitional, representing choices by the DA and judges instead of trends based on criminal activity.

A TV news station in San Antonio ran a feature questioning why Bexar County law enforcement agencies haven't been using new authority to issue citations for certain low-level misdemeanors approved in HB 2391 in the 80th (2007) Texas Legislature:

"My hope is in the long term a substantial number will take advantage of it," said Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano.

The new state law gives officers the option to write a ticket for many misdemeanor crimes, including possession of less than four ounces of marijuana.

Since the law went into effect last September, the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff's Office have made nearly 5,000 busts for marijuana possession.

The I-Team has uncovered out of those cases none of the officers wrote a ticket. So why isn't Bexar County taking advantage of the new law?

"Rep. Madden may wish to minimize marijuana possession. I don't," said Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed.

Travis County is the only agency in the state that's using the new citation law. (ed note: incorrect - see below)

Last month, 37-year-old Adrian Williams was caught with a few ounces of marijuana. Instead of being arrested, he was given a ticket by a Travis County deputy and was told to show up to court.

After appearing before the judge, Williams left the courtroom and headed over to be booked, meanwhile the deputy who busted him was never taken off the street.

"Like most agencies, we don't have enough patrol officers out there. And it's not very efficient to bring someone out of their district for sometimes four hours to book somebody for a relatively minor offense," said Major Scott Burroughs with the Travis County Sheriff's Office.

The only difference if Williams had been arrested in Bexar County versus in Travis County is the timing.

In Bexar County, an officer would have arrested Williams on the spot and taken him right then and there to jail. While there he would have sat in jail for several hours before appearing before a judge.

Williams, a father of four, says he would have lost his job if he had been arrested the day he was caught with marijuana.

"Instead of having to be locked up and having no job to go back to, just take off a day, take care of what you got to do and go back to work," he said.

For the past eight months the Travis County Sheriff's Office, has been writing tickets instead of making arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession. By doing so the jails are now less crowded and deputies remain on patrol longer.

It also cuts their fuel usage since deputies are no longer making so many trips to the county jail.

"Everything has been plus, plus, plus. We have not found a single negative to it yet," said Burroughs.

It's actually incorrect that Travis County is the only agency using the new authority - that error was published last fall in the Dallas News and has been repeated by other reporters. However, several agencies including Dallas PD and some smaller counties are writing tickets for certain B misdemeanors. The story also implied the new law only applies to marijuana, but there are a number of less controversial offenses also authorized to receive tickets.

If Bexar had implemented HB 2391 last year, officers could have saved literally of thousands of unnecessary trips to the jail to process misdemeanor arrests. Each such arrest took an officer off the street for processing, and at $4+ per gallon travel expenses begin to add a significant expense to the mix. Giving tickets for these offenses would increase the number of police on the street plus reduce travel costs, jail overcrowding, and 911 response times. Where are the fiscal conservatives when you need them?

Would it really have "minimized" marijuana possession to give citations instead of making arrests? The offense level and punishments remain the same; officers would just have the discretion not to process certain defendants through the jail. In most cases B misdemeanants are released from custody within 24 hours or less and the penalty is virtually never incarceration (because the jail is overcrowded), so what exactly is the point?
None of the offenses for which citations were approved pose a public safety risk, and officers would still have authority to arrest when they think the situation warrants it.

For my money, Ms. Reed's position minimizes the importance of 911 response times, keeping officers out on the streets for public safety, as well as the impact an overcrowded jail and transportation costs foist upon the taxpayers. She certainly doesn't seem to be balancing those interests with her concern about sending a tuff message on pot.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

D.A. Reed doesn't enforce writing tickets for Marijuana Possession, nor does she lock up others for buying S.W. Airline tickets illegally. Well, at least she is consistent.

Anonymous said...

Williams, a father of four, says he would have lost his job if he had been arrested the day he was caught with marijuana

I had to laugh at this because the obvious inference is that his boss would fire him for not showing up on time, rather than for carrying around a few ounces of weed on the job.

When jail overcrowding has real consequences for elected officials and bureaucrats they will implement temporary measures such as relaxing PR bond eligibility requirements, granting early releasing, etc.

Until then they will view empty jail beds as a waste of taxpayer money because they see the cost of running the facility as a constant.

Anonymous said...

Judge Angelini's DWI waas dismissed to make more room! What's new...Bexar County at its best! They also fire Probation officers for get this ...Telling the truth!
Something the DA and Chief probation officer don't know anything about.

Anonymous said...

Reed knows this is her last term, so why not burnish her reputation as one tough alcoholic dyke in her last months in office.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, Judge Sid L. Harle of of the 226th district Court in Bexar County, who is reported to be interested in the DA position will bring back some dignity to the DA post. He knows there are many problems in the county and especially in the Justice Center/Courthouse.
However, with his apparent disregard to fix the problems in the Bexar County probation department, he appears to be someone willing to walk away from his responsibility to rid the probation department of a chief that HE helped put into that position.
Those probation employees, who are VOTERS with families and friends, may not be voting for him though. Show them they can count on you to dod the right thing Judge Harle and push a "NO CONFIDENCE VOTE" on Chief Fitzgerald. Help the employees of the Bexar County CSCD (porbation) regain confidence and pride in their department by finding a TRUE leader, and hire a NEW CHIEF. The citizens of Bexar County deserve your support in a SAFE community. Thus far, you and the other judges have failed us, as you are the ones in charge of hiring/firing the Chief Probation officer.
Please do the right thing!

Anonymous said...

This is not just DA Reed's decision. The police chief and sheriff support it also. They are the one who pick up the criminals, not the DA. You have to confirm identity of all of the people charged with fingerprints and photographs. That way the wrong person is not arrested when a warrant is issued for failure to appear.

This is the way it is done all of the country and across the state.

To the commentators who blame DA Reed for all of th world's problems, she had nothing to do with the Angelini case. That was handled by a Special Prosecutor appointed by the court. She also not did handle the SW airlines cases. The Feds investigated and prosecuted those cases against the guilty parties. Finally, jail overcrowding is an important issue, but so is arresting criminals. Bexar County moves fast to get these defendants out of jail and on bond. Their cases are in court usually within a week. That is fast by anyone standaards.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It was indeed Reed's decision, 5:45. You're just wrong. SAPD said specifically they weren't using the new authority because of Reed's dicta. Also, perhaps the new Sheriff doesn't support the idea but Sheriff Lopez did before Reed went after him; in fact Lopez's jail administrator Dennis McKnight first proposed the idea and is now the GOP nominee for Sheriff. Saying the chief and Sheriff had equal responsibility for the decision is disingenuous bordering on a lie.

Also, are you saying people arrested for pot may wait a week to go to court? In jail? Please explain what you're talking about. They're required to have bond set much quicker than that.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

One more thing. Before you go spreading pablum about the inability to get photos, fingerprints, etc., read how other agencies are handling the authority without running into any of those difficulties. Those are red herrings, not actual problems with the law.

Anonymous said...

Whoa!

Susan Reed! The Queen of Bexar County!

""Rep. Madden may wish to minimize marijuana possession. I don't," said Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed."

Anonymous said...

Its 5:45 again. You sure seem sensitive. Why don't you check your facts again. Neat trick --- citing yourself for a proposition. Your previous article cites Dave Maass of the San Antonio Current in his open letter to DA Reed. (By the way, Maass has since departed the Current under shall we say a cloud). He says that unnamed sources in SAPD told him "that after talking to you" they would not use citations. (Very professional to rely on lots of hearsay). Did he talk to the Police Chief. It is true that the DA talked with the Chief. That is called conferring on the matter and reaching a consensus. As I said, the current police chief and the Sheriff both oppose it. You fail to address what else I noted --- the vast majority of the State and the nation do the same thing. I guess they are all dumb and you have it all figured out for them.

As for how other agencies counties are going it, it may be well and good. But, that was not what was proposed in Bexar County. The talk was to just issue citations--like a traffic ticket--and let the defendants go. Bad idea.

To clarify, most misdemeanor defendants make bond within several hours. Their case is literally in court and ready to go within a week or less, sometimes as little as three days. This is in an effort to ease the jail population by getting those defendants into court who don't/can't make bond. BTW, don't blame Reed if you still think this is too slow. The police have to get their reports into the DA, the DA has to create the paperwork, a judge has to review it an make a probable cause determination, the County clerk has to then create a court file, prior criminal records of the arrested person have to be pulled, and then the case has to be placed on the docket by the clerk and/or court administrator. It takes a lot of different players to get the case ready and Reed only controls her office.

Anonymous said...

It's 5:45 again. One more thing. As I said most misdemeanor defendants make bond in a few hours. If you read on from your own prior blog you will see that Bexar County already pretty much does the same thing, except better.

In your prior blog you cite the new process:

"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."

Well, the only real difference is that in Bexar County the defendants are transported to the Magistrate's office and everything is done there. They get booked and get a Personal Bond and are released. Many of them never hit the jail. If they do, it is only for a few hours. You fail to recognize the flaw in the Travis County system. As I read it, the Defendant is "ordered to appear before a Magistrate. . ." Does that mean they get a ticket and then appear at some later time? If so, what if they fail to appear? How is identity confirmed? No fingerprints or photographs have yet been obtained. Have they been run for warrants yet? What if you, as a police officer, unknowingly released a wanted felon with a citation? Do you think the felon is going to show up at the mag court so he can be magistrated and then arrested for his felony? I know even you don't think that will happen. The felon is going to high tail it quick.

Finally, just because reasonable minds can differ on an issue does not mean that people are stupid or crooks. Why don't you give these people who have spent their entire professional lives in law enforcement a little credit and think that they might know what they are doing, even if you would do it differently?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm not sensitive, you're just spreading horse manure hoping misrepresentations will grow. It was Reed's decision, no one else's. To say otherwise is just false, and just because Dave Maas reported it doesn't mean that's not what happened.

Also, I cited my own writing because I'm the only one that covered the jail overcrowding symposium in San Antonio where Travis' program was detailed.

RE: What was proposed in Bexar (tickets only) you're also wrong. Bexar never got a chance to put together a proposal before Reed nixed it. I know for a fact that's not what McKnight had in mind.

Repeating the same misrepresentations to make Reed look less silly doesn't change the fact that SHE, no one else, not the police chief and not the Sheriff, is the reason Bexar did not implement this new authority. Whine all you want about it, but facts are facts.

Anonymous said...

Well, let's see, DA Reed stated, I didn't know those Southwest Airline tickets/vouchers were stolen. Even though they had warnings on them. I guess her defense is "IGNORANCE". What's strange though, she doesn't seem to allow that defense from POOR black, brown, white and asian defendants.
She is a bully who wants YES people around her, don't get on her bad side!
She went all out to prosecute Mel Spillman for stealing but didn't prosecute herself for STEALING and TAKING A GIFT WITHOUT REPORTING IT!
TIME TO GET OUT MS. REED, retire and go to Hawaii. Remember, Don't drink and ride your bike!!

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