Friday, August 31, 2007

Jefferson County works out kinks with new police cite and summons authority

New laws passed by the 80th Texas Legislature all take effect tomorrow, Sept. 1, if they haven't already. In the case of HB 2391 allowing police to issue citations for certain nonviolent misdemeanants, local officials must decide whether to utilize the new law on a county by county basis. The bill, which was signed by Gov. Perry in June, was the only major legislation helping counties with local jail overcrowding passed in 2007.

Opposition from District Attorneys has stopped the idea from being implemented in Bexar, Harris, and now Orange counties, but others like Travis, Colorado and Jefferson will implement the new law to save money and to keep officers on the streets to combat more serious offenses. The Beaumont Enterprise today ("Pot smokers might not get arrested," Aug. 31) reports that some
counties, including Jefferson, are working through logistical burdens the change presents.

County Court at Law Judge G.R. "Lupe" Flores said the county's misdemeanor judges are working with the district attorney's office to develop new procedures.

"We're figuring it out," the judge said. "For example, an officer could call the jail's booking officer to get a court date when a citation is written."

Now, an offender gets a court date when he or she leaves the jail, usually after being photographed, documented and fingerprinted.

Port Arthur Police Chief Mark Blanton said he hopes using citations will keep more of his officers available and inside his city.

"It will save us a trip to the county jail," Blanton said by phone. "There are some things we'll have to work out with the DA's office, but I think it can work the same way a traffic ticket does."

Here's a great example of how, when local officials cooperate to reduce jail overcrowding, it's possible to come up with solutions.

In Bexar County, where the jail remains severely overcrowded, the DA says the technical requirements of the law make it impossible to implement. In Jefferson, though, they've figured out that officers can overcome that hurdle with a simple call to the county booking officer. How hard was that, Mrs. Reed?

I've said it before but it's worth repeating - voters who live in counties where local law enforcement won't implement this new law should reject requests to approve bonds for new jails. It just makes no sense to keep building when options exist to reduce jail overcrowding that aren't being used.

UPDATE: Hays County law enforcement will soon begin using the new cite and summons authority, but won't start Sept. 1 because new procedures and ticket books haven't been created.

See prior, related Grits coverage:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The counties with huge populatons are waiting for the smaller counties to take the risks associated with this change.

After the smaller counties have worked out a - best practice - the counties with larger populations can begin their changes. When counties with more at stake feel safe enough perhaps they will take advantage of this gift from the legislature.