Monday, April 22, 2019

Class-C arrests by Austin PD plummet after policy restrictions implemented

As bills are considered at the Texas Legislature to restrict Class-C misdemeanor arrests, Austin PD revealed that new policies limiting such warrantless detentions have radically reduced their number. "In the first three months of the year," the Statesman reported, there was a 57% decline over 2018 arrest numbers."

The new changes eliminated the majority of allowable reasons officers could make an arrest for Class-C misdemeanor violations, for which the maximum punishment is only a fine, not jail time. From the Statesman:
“If an officer came across an individual that was committing a violation that was eligible for cite and release, we used to have a long list,” Manley said. “I believe it was 11 disqualifiers, or reasons that the officer could state for making the arrest otherwise.” Police now have only four criteria that could be used to make the arrest versus issuing the citation, he said. 
Officers are still allowed a bit of nuance in their decisions on making arrests. Before police can cut a person loose with a citation:
  • The officer must be satisfied that the person has fully identified themselves.
  • The officer has to believe that the safety of the person or property would not be endangered.
  • The person must not ask to be immediately taken before a magistrate judge, which is allowed under state law, Manley said.
  • The offense also must not involve exposure with sexual intent, for which police will always make an arrest.
Offenders suspected of driving with an invalid license won’t be released if they were involved a serious crash and deemed to be at fault, or if their license was suspended or invalid because of a drunken driving offense.
Maybe the most controversial reason that no longer justifies arrests in Austin: an officer's desire to search a vehicle to investigate potential crimes beyond the traffic offense for which a driver was pulled over. Austin PD policy no longer condones Class C arrests as an investigative tool on the roadside.

We know a lot more now about these arrests for petty offenses than we did in the aftermath of Sandra Bland's death nearly four years ago, much less 20 years ago when Gail Atwater was pulled over in Lago Vista, presaging a legal battle that took the issue of Class-C arrests all the way to the US Supreme Court, where she lost 5-4.

The SCOTUS majority in Atwater's case consoled itself that there was no evidence Class-C misdemeanor arrests in Texas were at "epidemic" levels. Now, we have solid evidence that they are.

Texas Appleseed analyzed jail bookings for 11 of Texas' 254 counties and discovered more than 30,000 Class C arrests in a single year, ranging from seven (7) to 16 percent of jail bookings in counties studied. 

Meanwhile the Sandra Bland Act, passed in 2017 by the Texas Legislature, required new reporting by law enforcement on Class C arrests at traffic stops, separating them out from arrests for warrants or more serious Penal Code violations. When Just Liberty analyzed data from the largest cities and counties (PDs in towns bigger than 50,000; sheriffs in counties bigger than 100,000), there were nearly 23,000 Class-C-only arrests in 2018, with nearly 5,000 more made by Texas DPS troopers. Overall, Texans were arrested at about one out of every 150 traffic stops. But in some jurisdictions, the proportion was much higher: Waco PD reported arresting 4.5 percent of drivers its police officers pulled over, or roughly one out of every 22 drivers.

These two datasets corroborate that tens of thousands of these arrests are being made annually. (To be clear, they're measuring slightly different things: The Sandra-Bland data only documents Class-C arrests made at traffic stops, while the Texas Appleseed analysis includes Class-C arrests made under any circumstance by all agencies in those 11 counties.)

Overall, recent findings seem pretty consistent with past estimates. In 2016, an analysis of Harris County jail bookings by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found Class C arrests accounted for 11 percent of jail bookings in Texas' largest county. In Travis County, the Statesman reported, Class-C misdemeanors accounted for 12.5 percent of jail bookings in 2017. Those numbers fall squarely in the middle of the range Appleseed discovered.

Further, we know Texas municipal judges and Justices of the Peace issued more than 2 million warrants and capias pro fines for Class C misdemeanors in 2018, down from nearly 3 million just a few years ago. And we know that 524,628 people in 2018 satisfied their Class-C-ticket debts with "jail credit." Indeed, that figure is down significantly: In 2012, according to the Office of Court Administration, 820,231 people sat out their Class C fines in jail (combining totals for muni courts and JPs - select "Additional Activity" under "Section" to query on jail-credit data).

So we can say with confidence that Class C misdemeanor arrests are common, accounting for a significant portion of Texas jail bookings. Further, we know that they're not just happening at traffic stops, but that a large number of Class-C arrests occur in other settings (because the jail bookings numbers are so much higher than the traffic-stop numbers). Finally, we know that Class-C warrants have become ubiquitous, and hundreds of thousands of Texans end up in jail over them every year. Texas muni judges and JPs issue millions of such warrants annually and they never expire.

Austin PD's experience tells us that Class-C arrests can be radically reduced without harming public safety. And the data tell us they're not the only Texas jurisdiction that would benefit from such a policy.


Anonymous said...

None of this has ever been about "public safety". It has been about one thing and that is money.

gravyrug said...

06:22, The people paying with "jail credit" are costing the state more than they would have generated through fines. If it's about money, they're doing it wrong.

Unknown said...

I think TDCJ receives federal funds for every person they incarcerate. It would not surprised me if jails did. Besides arrests underpin and justify the court systems and budget increases to handle the extra cases. No matter what, they make money off of the whole enchilada. I know for a fact that some police departments also receive federal funds for the "war on drugs". I saw it in their budget. One tiny Texas town registers 10 million federal funds in their budget report for every year and that town gets most of their addl budget from traffic stops along I-10. They arrest and detain anyone they want and most choose D/A which is a revolving fleecing by the probation system. The Police, lawyers, judges, court personnel, bail companies, parole/probation system, towing companies ALL get in on the action. oh and don't forget highway interdiction where they can take any cash, electronics or material goods they want from you. It is lucrative.

George said...

EVERYTHING is about money ( and power, which equates to money ) and if you think otherwise you're one gullible and naïve follow-along individual who relies on others to do their thinking for them.

Most, if not all, elected officials don't truly "represent" their constituents who go to the polls and vote them into office, they truly "represent" corporations and individuals who have deep pockets and want to keep it that way. Ignorance is bliss so they say, except in this case ignorance is allowing shenanigans such as this to grow and prosper and has become the new norm that our society has seemingly accepted without much fuss.

The minds that helped launched the division among Americans politically through social media, were brilliant from that standpoint weren't they? Keep our citizens busy clawing at each other's throats while remaining oblivious to the silent revolution that is taking place under our very noses. Our political climate has gotten to the point where the attitude is to win at ANY cost and don't compromise in any way. The question is, how do we return to a true democracy without destroying ourselves from within?

imnotalone said...

Here in our little Texoma, Texas town... Our local P.D. prowls the streets day and night.
Making pretext stops, just to begin their fishing expedition: "do you know why I pulled you over"? Why yes, officer, I do. You're after my hard earned money. Gets a search every time. Lol