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?
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?
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.