Some big time opposition is developing as the City of San Antonio attempts to implement the long-planned 'Cite and Release' program for small time offenders, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The program allows for people who are arrested for minor, non violent crimes, from possession of small amounts of marijuana to minor theft from a business, to receive a ticket, rather than a trip to jail. If they complete a series of programs, including community service and keeping their record clear for a specified amount of time, the arrest record would be removed.
Supporters say an arrest record for a minor crime not only places people in the County Jail who don't need to be there, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in incarceration fees, but it leaves the person with a sometimes permanent black mark. They say an arrest for possessing a joint of marijuana can block a person from getting a job or a place in college, can prevent enlistment in the military, and can even prevent a person from qualifying for affordable housing, decades after the arrest.
Supporters stress that 'Cite and Release' is not decriminalization. The offender would still be in the criminal justice system and would have to complete court ordered programs. It would just not involve incarceration.
But northeast side Councilman Clayton Perry says there's a lot about the idea not to like.
"District ten residents are not happy about this, in fact they are hopping mad," he said. "Where are there protections, based on the money they are paying in taxes."
Perry says citizens pay taxes to support the police department because they expect criminals to be arrested and prosecuted, not let go.
Perry also says the fact that after a person has completed the program the record of the arrest is removed is an invitation to game the system.
"After sixty days or whatever that timeline is, they can go back and do the same thing, get it expunged from their record, and then go back and commit crimes again and again," he said.
Perry is also concerned that the SAPD is about to become a group of bail bond enforcers, spending all their time going after people who failed to appear for the court ordered program, and now have warrants out for their arrest.
And there is criticism from activist groups as well.
Police Chief Bill McManus says for 'Cite and Release' to work, the discretion on whether to arrest an offender or allow them to be released with a ticket has to be up to the officer.
For activist Erica DeShays, that sounds like an invitation for racial profiling.
"It could lead to racial profiling, profiling based on socio-economic status, or the neighborhood that the person comes from," she said.
There was also a call for specific figures from other cities on how 'Cite and Release' has worked there. Many City Council members complained they have not seen any documentation that the idea actually works the way it has been presented.
The City had hoped to have 'Cite and Release' in operation by this summer.