I honestly have no clue what John Bradley is talking about. This change doesn't "decriminalize" anything. The offense charged is still a B misdemeanor with the full range of punishment options available upon conviction. That kind of overhyped rhetoric seems misplaced here.
By year's end, Police Chief Art Acevedo hopes to put in place a policy that would allow officers to ticket some offenders instead of taking them to the Travis County Jail. The move comes more than a year after state legislators passed a so-called "cite and release" law. The policy would apply only to certain Class A and Class B misdemeanor arrests.
"We are committed to it," Acevedo said last week. "We just have to work through the actual process."
Since the legislation became law in September 2007, civil libertarians, including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, have urged Acevedo to put a program in place. Other Texas cities, including Dallas, have altered policies in the past year to give officers more flexibility in deciding which suspects get tickets and which go to jail.
The penalties for the offenses would not change. People who received citations would be given a court date, and there would be no change in how their cases would move through the court system.
In addition to the marijuana and driver's license charges, offenses that would fall under the law are criminal mischief, graffiti and theft when the damage is less than $500.
Proponents of the measure say a cite and release policy eases the strain on jails, saves relatively minor offenders from spending hours behind bars and frees officers to stay on the street and pursue more serious criminals. A recent study estimated that if the policy had been in place last year, about 15,000 Austin suspects could have been cited instead of taken to jail, a process that can take officers as many as three hours.
State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said he proposed the law after consulting with law enforcement officials from across the state because he supports keeping more officers on the street. Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton was among those who supported the legislation.
"I thought it made sense, that it is a smart-on-crime type bill," Madden said.
However, critics, including Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, said the law "sends the exact opposite signal" law enforcement officials should want to give offenders. "My thoughts are that the entire process is a very creative way to decriminalize how we prosecute drug cases in Texas," Bradley said.
What the change will do is reduce costs to taxpayers for the jail, prisoner transportation, and also keep officers on the street to combat more serious crime, which seems like a win-win all the way around.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- Police union backs using citation authority at Austin PD
- With safety costs rising, why won't Austin PD use new citation authority?
- Nuts and bolts of citations for low-level misdemeanors explained by Travis Sheriff's Office
- On the source of volitional jail overcrowding in Bexar County: Why solve a problem when you can create one?
- Tyler officials should listen to voters, use new tools to reduce jail overcrowding
- 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
- 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