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San Marcos City Council Promises To Do More To Address Police Brutality, Criminal Justice Reform

Nationwide protests over the past month have called for an end to police violence and systematic racism.
Nationwide protests over the past month have called for an end to police violence and systematic racism.

The City of San Marcos is promising to do more to address calls for an end to police brutality and systemic racism within law enforcement.

At a special meeting Thursday, council members passed a series of resolutions to address reform on a local and national level.

One resolution urged Hays County to implement something known as cite and divert – a practice that makes it easier for people charged with low-level offenses to avoid jail time or a permanent record. Instead of going to court, people who qualify could instead go to counseling or do community service.

"The City Council supports the proposed Cite and Divert Program and encourages the Hays County Criminal District Attorney’s Office to establish and implement the program as soon as possible," the resolution reads.

District Attorney Wes Mau had delivered a presentation to the Hays County Criminal Justice Reform Committee on Wednesday about cite-and-divert programs.

Earlier this month, San Marcos became the first city in Texas to enforce a cite-and-release law. It requires police to issue citations rather than arresting people for misdemeanors, like if a person pulled over for running a stop sign is found to have a small amount of marijuana on them.

The person would still have to meet with a judge and enter a plea, putting that charge on their record. However, if a cite-and-divert program were established, people who qualify wouldn’t have to go to court at all and could instead take an educational course or complete community service.

The programs both aim to keep people out of jail for small crimes. Criminal justice advocates say paired together they would alleviate the over-criminalization Black and Hispanic residents in Hays County.

Another  resolution calls on the entire Texas congressional delegation to pass laws that hold local law enforcement agencies accountable to the federal government. Part of the resolution prohibits the military from donating military equipment to local law enforcement agencies – specifically for use against civilians.

“I'm sorry, but I was sickened by seeing a military helicopter hover over peaceful protesters in different cities,” Council Member Ed Mihalkanin, who wrote the resolution, said. “And I was appalled to see tear gas used on Lafayette Square across the street from the White House just to clear a path."

The resolution also asks Congress to require local authorities to report to the Department of Justice when a person dies in law enforcement custody. It says that reporting could be used to kick-start an investigation into whether a police officer used excessive force or if a police department has a pattern of discrimination” against people of color.

Several council members acknowledged there’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to these issues and emphasized there is still work left to be done.

“This is one of what will probably be several resolutions,” Council Member Melissa Derrick said. “We may address things like no-knock warrants. This is not the only resolution that we plan to pass.”

Council Member Maxfield Baker agreed.

“There's so much going on in these conversations that we have to take some of these issues piecemeal instead of trying to pass one long and labored resolution,” he said.

The City of Kyle plans to address similar topics at an  inaugural summit for peace and progress on Friday. Speakers include Mayor Travis Mitchell, Police Chief Jeff Barnett and members from the group #Mothers4BlackLives. The event will be held at Kyle City Hall and livestreamed on the City of Kyle Facebook page. 

Got a tip? Email Riane Roldan at  rroldan@kut.org . Follow her on Twitter @RianeRoldan.

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