The City of San Antonio is one step closer to initiating what is called a 'cite and release' program, where people who are arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana, and for several other low level offenses, will receive the equivalent of a traffic ticket, at the discretion of the arresting officer, instead of going to jail, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Police Chief Bill McManus told the Council Public Safety Committee today that such a program would save his officers untold thousands of hours each year which are now spent in the tedious process of booking these people into jail.
"My biggest concern is that it must be at the officer's discretion," McManus stressed.
The offense most frequently covered by 'cite and release' would be possession of small amounts of marijuana, but it would also cover theft of service, which is running out of a restaurant without paying, criminal mischief, and misdemeanor theft.
McManus says his officers have made a total of 29,654 arrests for offenses which would be covered under the cite and release program. Considering it takes up to four hours to process an offender into jail, that amounts to nearly 100,000 hours spent by his officers that could have been used fighting serious crime.
McManus says he will meet with Bexar County D-A elect Joe Gonzalez next month to work out details on the 'back end' of cite and release, specifically what alternative penalties will be available to offenders, and whether the record of the citation can be removed from their records.
East side Councilman Cruz Shaw says one of the advantages is to end the unfairness of holding a person on cash bail.
"The worst thing to see is akid go to jail for a marijuana charge, they plead guilty because we have what's called 'jail court,' they plead guilty because that is the only way they can get out," Shaw said. "That is not fair, that is not true criminal justice. You know who can get out of jail? People who have money."
But Councilman Clayton Perry says he has concerns about how much the 'alternative sentencing' would cost taxpayers. He asked whether anybody has any data on how cite and release would work, and was told there is none.
"There is no data, nothing sorting this out, as to what are the savings, is it going to reduce crime," he said.
City Council is expected to take final action on cite and release next month.