To Arrest or Release by Citation, That is the Question…

On October 19, 2008, the Austin American Statesman reported on changes governing when officers arrest someone by taking them to jail and when they release the alleged offenders by citation.  These changes are soon to be implemented by the Austin Police Department according to its Chief, Art Acevedo.

The offenses that qualify for the optional release by citation are as follows:

  • Graffiti < $500.00 in damages
  • Theft < $500.00
  • Criminal Mischief < $500.00
  • Possession of Marijuana < 2 oz
  • Driving while License Invalid (select offenses).

Most of us understand what the criminal offenses are and realize that there is not a high risk to the public’s safety involved in any one of these offenses.  I believe that is part of the logic behind doing a "cite and release" procedure on these offenses.  Further, it would not result in a change in the manner with which these cases are resolved or the penalties that the arrestee faces.  The only matter that is changed is whether the arrestee finds himself in the back of a patrol car, handcuffed and on his or her way to jail.

Of course, there are proponents and opponents to this change in the law and its policy.  But, to summarize the proponents points of view:

  • Keeps more officers on the street because they are not tied up with minor arrest paperwork;
  • Reserves jail space for more serious offenders;
  • Saves tax payer money by minimizing the use of jail space;
  • Trust erodes between citizens and officers if it is perceived officers are making a "bigger deal than necessary" out of a matter.

Opponents argue that this policy:

  • "Sends the wrong message", to paraphrase Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley;
  • Concerns that the public will complain.

So, let’s consider what Mr. Bradley means by his concern that it sends the wrong message.  His actual statement to the news read:

the law "sends the exact opposite signal" law enforcement officials should want to give offenders. "My thoughts are that the entire process is a very creative way to decriminalize how we prosecute drug cases in Texas."

Let’s not forget that this is not just a policy change by Austin Police Department or other agencies, it is an actual change to Texas law that went into effect in September, 2007.  This change was not done by the Courts, but by the actual law makers, the Legislature, who are put into office by voters statewide.

The last time I checked, and when I was working in law enforcement as a Williamson County Deputy Sheriff, I never perceived my job, duty or responsibility to send a "signal" or to "give offenders" any point of view.  My job was to enforce the laws that were passed by the Legislature.  Further, my job was to do that in a professional manner that put a positive image on the agency that I worked for.  My goal being to enforce the laws that were on the books, not to make a political statement when doing so.  However, I do believe that many officers take it upon themselves to teach someone a lesson….  That is not what we want in officers.

I also question why John Bradley is commenting on this and not Jana Duty, the Williamson County Attorney.  Afterall, none, not one, of the offenses covered by the change in this law are prosecuted by Mr. Bradley.  His office is responsible for felonies, not misdemeanors like these.

Ms. Duty, what is your opinion of these matters, as they are going to be governed by your office and handled by your prosecutors… and ultimately save you time and money in your budget. 

Sheriff Wilson, what is your opinion? Your deputies are the ones that would be saved time.  And, given the mass shortage of deputies you currently have available to cover the districts, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep them available to take higher priority calls?

In no way am I suggesting these matters should not be prosecuted, but think about the money that can be saved along with the monumental waste of time it is to arrest someone for these matters and remove officers from the street.

Voters, what do you think? I invite anyone to comment to this blog below and let’s begin a useful, informative dialogue.