On Feb. 22, the Austin Police Department began implementing the so-called cite-and-release law, which authorizes police to forgo arresting individuals for certain misdemeanor offenses. The law does not decriminalize any of the offenses – among them, possession of small amounts of marijuana – but allows an officer, under specific conditions, to decline to book a person into jail for initial processing, thereby saving time, money, and police manpower. The law does not eliminate the possibility of eventual jail time for the Class A and B offenses covered – if convicted, a defendant could still get six months in jail for a class B offense, or up to a year for class A. “Organizational efficiency and the prioritization of resource use is critical, especially during tough economic times,” said APD Chief Art Acevedo. “We believe this process will free up our limited resources and enable our officers to focus on more serious crimes.”
APD will implement the policy, codified by lawmakers in 2007, in both Hays and Travis counties. The Travis Co. Sheriff’s Office – whose top cop, Sheriff Greg Hamilton, along with County Attorney David Escamilla, helped lawmakers write the law in 2007 – has been using the option since the end of 2007. They say it has been a good way to keep deputies in the field. Notably, Williamson Co., into which a small portion of the city stretches, is not yet on board with the program, though Acevedo said he hopes their county attorney, Jana Duty, will eventually agree to implement the cost-saving measure. (Williamson Co. District Attorney John Bradley has been outspoken against the cite-and-release program. Sources say it’s Bradley’s attitude that is holding up program implementation there, even though his primary duty is to prosecute felony crimes, not the misdemeanors covered by the cite-and-release law.) Read more on the program here.
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