San Antonio Police and incoming District Attorney Joe Gonzalez are working out last minute details, and appear ready to begin to institute a 'Cite and Release' program to spare low level non violent offenders the risk of jail time, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Police Chief Bill McManus told the Council Public Safety Committee the main recipients of the program will be people who are found to be in possession of small amounts of marijuana or synthetic marijuana, but other minor crimes will be covered as well.
"Criminal mischief, theft, theft of services, bringing contraband into a criminal facility, and driving while license invalid," he told the committee
.At the request of City Council, graffiti violations have been removed from the list of crimes eligible for cite and release, as have vandalism to private property. He says no crime which involves violence, especially family violence, was ever considered for the program.
And McManus says people confuse the term 'cite' with a traffic 'citation,' which involves mailing in a fine. He says these offenses are still crimes under state law, and offenders will have to pay a penalty.
"They will be given a summons to appear, they report on their court date, they are given instructions from the judge on whether they are eligible to participate in one program or another, they are monitored through the process, an if they complete it, they are done."
He says that means all evidence of the incident will be removed from the criminal records of offenders. Criminal records are often automatic disqualifiers for educational, government employment, even from receiving welfare payments later in life.
He says the offenders who successfully complete the program will not be jailed, either upon arrest or as part of the punishment, and McManus says that will mean his officers will be free to concentrate on more serious crimes.
"For the police officer, it gets him or her back onto the street in a more timely way, as opposed to being tied up doing arrest paperwork."
McManus did face push back from members of Council on some issues.
For example, he conceded that the officers who are freed up from arrest paperwork may then be burdened by having to arrest the offender if he or she fails to appear in court, but he pointed out that all offenders who are charged with these level of crimes would be released on bond anyway, and would have to be arrested for failure to appear in that case.
Councilman Clayton Perry said he has not seen any 'data' from other police agencies indicating whether the program really does have the benefits that McManus stated, in giving young minor offenders a second chance, freeing up police officers for other duties, and improving relations between the police and marginalized communities by ending what many members of those communities consider as 'harassment' arrests.
"Increased law enforcement efficiency, enhanced police community relations, less burden on non violent, low level offenders, and increased officer and public safety," McManus stated as among the benefits.
McManus said it is critical from his point of view to make sure the officer who encounters the offender has complete discretion on whehter to cite and release, or arrest.
Counclman Cruz Shaw urged the police department to begin 'Cite and Release' immediately, but McManus said more details need to be finalized with the incoming D.A. He says officers have been briefed about how 'Cite and Release' will work.