The San Antonio Police Department is exploring the option of releasing low-level offenders instead of arresting them on site.
It would apply to people stopped by police for possessing small amounts of marijuana, criminal mischief, theft of services, and other small crimes.
The program is called cite and release. The department has the ability to implement it without City Council approval but several members of its public safety committee asked for a full council briefing before it begins.
“It allows people the opportunity to stay out of jail on the initial alleged initial offense, so you can still go to school, go to work,” said District 2 Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw. “They will still be given a court date, on that court date they show up to court and the (district attorney) and the judge has the ability to either (choose) pretrial diversions if that’s being offered, or defer prosecution, probation, or jail time depending on the person’s history and age of offense.”
San Antonio police officers who stop people would have broad discretion on whether to arrest or cite the person.
“Whatever the situation is at the time of the offense, the officer will take that into consideration and determine whether its best to remove that subject from the environment by removing him or her, or citing them and letting them go on their way,” said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.
McManus supports the policy. He says the less time officers spend on arrests, the more time it gives them on patrol.
“People that are typically arrested for these offenses are bonding out anyway so it keeps the officer on the street and have less time processing when they’re citing instead of arresting,” he said.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar and outgoing District Attorney Nico LaHood announced a similar program earlier this year.
McManus said he’s had several meetings with incoming District Attorney Joe Gonzalez, who is supportive of cite and release.
According to SAPD data, the department has made 30,559 arrests that would qualify for cite and release. If those arrests were just cited instead, it would have saved the department about 45,800 hours of officer time which is the equivalent of seven officer positions annually.
The public safety committee consists of five council members. Shaw, who is the chair, Ana Sandoval of District 7, John Courage of District 9, Clayton Perry of District 10, and Greg Brockhouse of District 6.
Perry opposes cite and release, saying he would like to see more data of the program’s effectiveness.
“Are they really saving the manpower that justifies the cite and release program? Because what I’m hearing here, that’s really what the push is on this,” he said. “I understand the second chance thing, but there’s also consequences of warrants and that kind of thing. Would we just be turning around and those seven officers be out there chasing down folks that aren’t appearing when they should be.”
Shaw, who is leaving the council on Jan. 7, called for McManus to start implementation of the program immediately.
However, Brockhouse asked for it to be presented to the full council during a work session. Perry and Courage agreed that it should be heard by all 11 members of the council before SAPD takes action. That work session could take place early next year.
The delay in implementation was met with frustration from members of the Texas Organizing Project, which supports cite and release. But, TOP member Raven Pena said she understands the need for more discussion.
“We really want it to be on firm ground so that there’s no more political jockeying and where can really see the community benefiting the policy,” she said. “If it something that it can go into effect today, let’s have it go into effect today. … But let’s not have this come two months later with a political storm where Chief McManus feels like he needs to pull it back which is something we’ve seen previously.”
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules