The cite and release policy for low level offenses — proposed by the Bexar County District Attorney’s office — goes into effect on Monday.
Under cite and release law, officers in Bexar County have discretion in whether to arrest or cite someone in certain circumstances which vary on a case to case basis. Instead of being arrested, the offender may participate in a diversion program.
Implementing a cite and release policy was a campaign promise of new Bexar County DA Joe Gonzales who took office in January.
“Criminal justice reform is here in Bexar County. This is a good start and hopefully we’ll continue to work hard to keep this community safe,” he said Friday.
The policy works on using an individual officer’s discretion. Instead of arrest, the officer can give a ticket only to certain offenses that are eligible, including possession of small amounts of marijuana, driving without a license, theft and theft of service under $750 or criminal mischief.
In order for someone to qualify, they cannot have any active warrants, no other charges, must be a Bexar County resident, must have ID, at least 17 years old and drug offenses cannot have occurred in a drug-free zone. Cite and release policies enacted by cities and counties are possible due to a state law.
Those who are cited will have to report to the county’s reentry center where their case is reviewed and it can be determined if they are eligible for diversion programs.
“What will happen then, is someone will screen them from that department and determine along with a member from my office – a prosecutor – will review the case and decide whether or not that person is appropriate,” Gonzales said.
They’ll also be interviewed by the Bexar County Public Defender’s Office.
“What we’re doing is trying to be smart on crime. What we’re doing is giving people the opportunity – that deserve the opportunity not to languish in jail,” Gonzales said.
The initial rollout was hit with some procedural setbacks.
“I said early in my administration that I anticipated that we would be able to announce getting off the ground sometime during Fiesta, but I didn’t realize how many players are involved to make this a success,” Gonzales said. “ I didn’t realize how many moving parts there are to make this work.”
San Antonio Police were considering starting cite and release in April, however, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said there are certain elements that still needed to be ironed out.
“Our planning and research unit… did a lot of the heavy lifting to get this thing off the ground,” McManus said. “From planning with the DA’s office, what it will look like on the back end after officers issue the citation was not an easy task, it was not an easy discussion.”
The Bexar County Sheriff’s office started issuing citations instead of arrests for some offenses in January of 2018. About 215 citations have been issued. A little more than half of those cited did follow through on the citation agreements.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the first year and a half have seen mixed results with 60% of the cited individuals being no shows and not complying with the conditions. About 50% have not complied in 2019.
“But hearing Joe [Gonzales] and his vision for this is just a breath of fresh air,” Salazar said. “We see that he streamlined it, made it user friendly and I think we’re going to see some vast improvements in this, certainly as the SAPD jumps on board and they’re really going to be the true test of this thing because of the sheer volume of the people they deal with on a daily basis.”
Gonzales added there would be monitoring on race and socio-economics to see if it was benefiting one group over another.
“We’re going to rely heavily on pre-trial services to be able to monitor the types of individuals that qualify for the program and the success rate,” Gonzales said. “If we see some indication that its only benefiting one socio-economic group then that’s going to be a cause for pause for me. I’m going to be concerned.”
McManus and Salazar both said the policy would allow officers more time to patrol instead of processing arrests. There are 35 law enforcement agencies in Bexar County and Gonzales said many are interested or have joined into the policy.