Saturday, August 25, 2007

Travis County looks forward to cite and summons authority

In Travis County (Austin), "The Sheriff's Department estimates booking people caught with four ounces or less cost more than $1 million in 2006," reports KVUE-TV.

That doesn't even include thousands of other low-level, non-violent misdemeanants who cycle in and out of the county jail. That's why some law enforcement agencies in Travis County will begin issuing citations instead of arresting pot users starting September 1 under a new statute signed by Gov. Perry this spring. Offenses where citations can be given in lieu of arrests include:
  • Marijuana possession, (up to 4 oz)
  • Criminal mischief with less than $500 damage
  • Graffiti with less than $500 damage
  • Theft by check with less than $500 stolen
  • Theft of service with less than $500 stolen
  • Driving With an Invalid License
Unlike Bexar and Harris Counties, where the District Attorneys are thwarting the Texas Legislature's most important jail overcrowding initiative (and the subsequent savings in jail costs) in Austin local officials apparently are welcoming the change in policy. Travis DA Ronnie Earle told me not long ago he strongly supports the new law, however I've never heard the position of County Attorney David Escamilla, who actually prosecutes misdemeanors. Sounds like he must be on board.

The big question on how much this could save will depend on whether the Austin PD will participate, which itself depends a lot on the city council (God help us!) and Austin's new police chief. I suspect, though, that they'll go along with it because Travis jail overcrowding problems are pretty severe. (Plus, let's face it, this is Austin - I'll bet most residents would prefer Matthew McConaughey had been ticketed then left alone instead of arrested that night in 1999.)

Travis joins several smaller counties which have announced they'll implement the new law, and if the policy demonstrates savings without significant public safety harm, I hope the Legislature would mandate citation instead of jail for these offenses in 2009.

My bet: the change will improve public safety, not harm it. Most Texas police departments including Austin's are understaffed, and it's more important to keep officers out on the street looking for real bad guys than it is to have them spend hours locking up some pothead or a guy with an expired drivers license.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the reason you haven't heard from Ken Oden is because he is no longer the Travis County Attorney.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sorry, David Escamilla, good catch. I'll change it in the text. Escamilla was an Oden staffer forever, and it was a brain fart.

whitsfoe said...

Good for Travis County. But what about big bully Williamson County who would lock up a blind guy for jaywalking?

Anonymous said...

As for big bully Williamson County who would lock up a blind guy for jaywalking, MOVE! Until the authorities get a clue, just move! Lots of people have already done it and others have it on the to do list.

Anonymous said...

big bully Williamson County would lock up that blind man just for looking at them the wrong way.

Anonymous said...

Wilco would also thwart his right to assistance of counsel. God, they're horrible up there. Due process? I'm not sure they've heard of it....

MC said...

APD has expressed a willingness to participate and supports this as an agency. Can't speak for individual POs but seeing how much time is spent on booking and paperwork for each arrest, I would think that they welcome this, too. A sticking point has been identification. APD is hesitant to just hand out a ticket and field release an individual unless they can positively ID that person. You don't want to release someone who might have warrants for other offenses, bond forfeiture, absconder from supervision, or various other reasons. APD has been exploring the use of hand-held fingerprinting devices that capture a five print electronically in the field and connect to a database for verification. Not sure where they are with those machines, though. Aside from that misgiving, APDs communication with the County voices support of HB 2391.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ MC: Is the identification problem really any different than with traffic tickets, I wonder? All those things are true at the Class C traffic stop, but they give out citations there all the time.