Sunday, October 19, 2008

Austin PD finally implementing B misdemeanor citation policy

More than a year after they gained the new authority created by the Texas Legislature, the Austin Police Department has joined the ranks of Texas law enforcement agencies issuing citations instead of arresting (at the officers' discretion) for certain low-level, non-violent misdemeanors, a change that's been promoted locally by the group Keep Austin Safe. Reported the Austin Statesman ("Austin police to begin citing, not arresting some offenders," Oct. 19):

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.

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.

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:


Dries said...

APD has been in favor of this for a while. I've been doing research on HB 2391 for a paper at UT and I spoke with Al Eells (the Asst Chief); he said he's in favor of it but the hurdles are now mainly in Williamson County...

Anonymous said...

This bill was originally pushed by Travis County when it was pending before the legislature. I was at a Jail Symposium almost a year ago and Travis County said that their county and one other were the only counties implementing the bill. It is interesting to see that they really were not until now.

Dries said...

Ken: APD wasn't; Travis County most definitely is.

Deb said...

The hurdles are NOT in Williamson County. John Bradley is NOT Williamson County. He chose not to attend the Sept. 4 meeting where there were WilCo officials who all agreed the Option is a positive move and are in no way standing in the way of Austin implementing it.

See the Keep Austin Safe blog for minutes of that pivotal meeting.

APD agreed to honor the City's Public Safety Task Force resolution of Sept. 4 calling for implementation in 60 days, as it's been working on doing so, supposedly, for over a year. It took Travis County all of a week to get it done. The end of the year represents yet another delay tactic as they've yet to answer why they need more time.

Deb said...

We just posted a thanks to GFB in the blog!

123txpublicdefender123 said...

My rule of thumb is to take the opposite position of whatever the Williamson County DA's position is. Cite and release makes sense for all nonviolent misdemeanors where the individual is not presently a danger to others.

Anonymous said...

The characters that become rabid and spitting over the idea of decriminalizing marijuana are exposing their political red necks. "Gateway Drug" is about all they have to hang onto, and we all know that tobacco and alcohol are THE Gateway Drugs to be concerned about.

This was a sensible move that will save a lot. 'bout damn time!

Anonymous said...

The REAL reason the DA opposes this law:

In more than 99% of cases where you hold the accused person in jail he will take a guilty plea for time served.

At the same time, less than 95% of the accused people will just plead guilty if they are out on bond.

So if you let people out of jail, they more likley to demand their day in court, rather than just plead guilty in order to get out of jail.

Moving the numbers just 1% will result in a huge increase in the number of trials so the costs will shift from the jail to the courts and DA's office.