The San Antonio Police Department will roll out a cite and release program that will allow police officers to ticket low-level offenders instead of arrest them.
Under state law, Texas counties and cities are allowed to use discretion for offenses like graffiti, theft of service and marijuana possession under a certain number of ounces. Instead of arrest, the offender would get a ticket and a court date. San Antonio will be at least the fourth city in Texas to adopt this program.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said the option will afford officers more time on patrol.
“If there’s evidence, the evidence will be taken back to the substation and deposited in a lock box, and after that’s done [the officer] will be back on the street as opposed to a trip down the [magistrates] office and processing the prisoner and doing the paperwork required of an arrest, so it puts the officer back on the street in a very short amount of time.”
Although state law allows graffiti to be included, McManus said in San Antonio graffiti will not be eligible for cite and release.
“Grafitti has been an issue in this city for a long, long time. A lot of money is spent on it. There’s a lot of angst and anger among people who have been targeted by taggers,” McManus said.
McManus added that 50 percent of the cite and release eligible arrests SAPD has made since 2014 are class B marijuana possessions, which is less than two ounces.
The policy is possible through the assistance of the Bexar County District Attorney’s office. District Attorney Joe Gonzales said this prevents someone from beginning an arrest record because of a minor offense.
“When someone is arrested and they go to court, they may have the opportunity to avoid a conviction but they have an arrest on their record,” Gonzales said. “… If the individual is cited, then that person is not arrested, he is not booked and having to process through the jail, which means fingerprinted, photographed -- the whole nine yards.”
There are some restrictions to enforcement. If someone is stopped by police while committing one of the listed offenses, the person must be a resident of the county where the offense occurred.
SAPD was ready to roll out cite and release late last year, but after a presentation to the city council’s public safety committee, officials decided to hold back on launching it due to committee member concerns at the time.
The committee members wanted to have it heard before the full council before implementation.
The proposal was presented to the San Antonio City Council during a worksession Wednesday. The majority of council members supported it.
“I’m fully in favor of a more restorative justice approach to the work that you do,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “I think it has large benefits for a community such as San Antonio.”
Interim District 2 Councilman Art Hall, who represents the East Side, noted how arrests in these cases can disproportionately affect minority populations.
“For young people, particularly minority kids that get tagged for what could be minor infractions that follow them the rest of their lives -- it’s often a challenge,” Hall said. “It typically happens more so with minority kids than others. So this gives an opportunity to get kind of outside that cycle and give another way.”
District 10 councilman Clayton Perry was not in favor of it.
“I’m still struggling with this that we’re telling our taxpayers out there we’re going to let this go, [we] think it will work, it’s going to save police officers’ time and put them back on the streets -- that did not go over very well with District 10,” Perry said.
Cite and release does not need a full city council vote because it is an administrative directive from the police department.
However, in Dallas, police used cite and release sparingly.
McManus said the program will begin in April and have a review period of about six months.There will also be a public information campaign.