Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My articles on AustinPost.org

I've been posting articles for some time now over at the Austin Post - a non-profit on-line web forum for local happenings.

Please visit the page to see my take on such subjects as:

KeyPoint-Gate: the mishandling of the fall-out from the APD shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders, II. From misleading the public, withholding a publicly-led inquiry, scapegoating and avoidance of accountability and the unprecedented slap in the face to the Sanders' family and the whole community when they back-tracked on the negotiation for a settlement on the civil suit. "Austin's Schoolyard Bullies" exposes how beholden some of our elected officials are to the police union.

Email-Gate: more evidence of wrongdoing is being exposed in the uncovering of "walking quorums" and the continuing refusal to turn over public-business emails from private accounts by some councilmembers. Also as part of this series is critique of The Austin Chronicle's refusal to cover the issue, except when they attack those who are bringing it forth.

APD: focusing on non-violent crimes and pursuing costly technological toys continues to drive APD expenditures well beyond that of peer cities and well beyond the revenue stream of our general fund. Use of force reports, or the lack thereof, expose ills in accountability, while our Chief's choice of dress at an execution belies Austin's "progressive" stance.

Austin's Police Monitor: is hiring a former sheriff the best choice for overseeing police officers?

There are also miscellaneous stories about the Formula 1 racetrack boondoggle; the lack of coordination in making boards and commission appointments; note of a win for civil liberties by preventing officers from wielding needles and drawing blood; a May 2011 council election candidate roundup; and a "huzzah!" for my bud Richard Franklin, III getting national recognition for his incredible program lifting up youth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Austin Chronicle sets the record straight

Jordan Smith's continuing spot-on coverage of the citation option dispels the myth that this cost-savings program in any way changes the criminal categories of the charges covered under the option. She writes:

"The law does not decriminalize any of the offenses ... 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..."

There are forums to debate decriminalization and legalization, but cite and release policy discussions simply have no place in them.

Smith also goes onto explain why Williamson County is stalling, noting Wilco DA John Bradley--also responsible for putting forth the decriminalization myth--has been outspoken against the option despite it not being under his political purview.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cite and Release Starts Today!


APD Improves Public Safety With Launch Of “Cite and Release”

Austin – Austin Public Safety Solutions alongside the ACLU-TX Central Texas Chapter is pleased the Austin Police Department is today launching the “cite and release” program, which will serve to save millions of dollars per year that can be diverted to patrolling, violent crime investigations or to other City services targeted for cutting.

State law has long given police an option when it comes to responding to Class C misdemeanor charges, and since Sept. 1, 2007, the law was amended to include new categories of Class A and B misdemeanors (driving without a valid license; possession of marijuana for personal use; criminal mischief, graffiti and theft if the damage is less than $500; and Class B misdemeanor contraband in jail). The option is to either issue a citation with a court date on it or arrest, book and incarcerate a person until she/he is released with the same court date, needlessly eating up valuable resources.

APD is the fastest growing piece of the City budget, the largest piece of the general fund and represents almost all new general fund dollars in this year’s budget. The jail is the fastest growing piece of the County budget and has a history of overcrowding. Implementing the option to its fullest extent could cut down our jail population by 1/3 and save $5-10 million per year.* Taking less people to jail also means less liability to taxpayers.

Travis County Sheriff’s Office implemented the policy over a year ago and cites not only savings, but a higher appearance rate than those who were taken to jail for an offense. When citizens perceive law enforcement actions as reasonable, they are more inclined to cooperate. Full and equitable application of this program can increase community trust with law enforcement, which ensures a safer community.

“We are glad to see Chief Acevedo and the whole of the department embrace good police practices by committing to conserve resources when addressing low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors so we can divert those resources to truly improving public safety and our City," said Debbie Russell, president, Central TX Chapter, ACLU-TX; spokesperson, Keep Austin Safe; member, City of Austin Public Safety Task Force

*Potential Cost Savings

(based on City figures as shown in report linked on www.keepaustinsafe.org):

Officer time: $195.30 per arrest

Fingerprinting and ID: $11.10 per arrest

Report Review: $14.64

Booking Services: $104.35

Cost of Magistration: $17.45

City Marshall Transportation; Support Staff, Equipment, Supplies; Incarceration (which includes Travis Co. staff time): $??

Health/mental health costs: $??

PARTIAL COST of an ARREST: $342.92 + unknowns that possibly double that amount x potentially 15-16,000 unnecessary arrests not made in a year can save $5-10 million.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Williamson County District Attorney Out of Touch with the Rest of the Region

Grits for Breakfast denounced Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley's assertion in the Statesman article that the Citation Option will in any way decriminalize charges included in the new law. It will do so no more than a citation decriminalizes a traffic offense. Thank you, Grits! Implementation of the Citation Option is law enforcements' choice anyway, Mr. District Attorney, not the prosecutor's.

All the court and law enforcement professionals from around Central Texas agreed, when they convened last month, on two things:

1. the Citation Option will have a positive impact, and
2. law enforcement CAN implement this law without permission from the prosecutor.

Check out the minutes in our October 17 post below.

Chronicle Endorses Sheriff Focusing Mainly on His Support of Citation Option

In endorsing Greg Hamilton for Sheriff, the Austin Chronicle agrees with us that APD is "dragging its feet" on implementation of the Citation Option. Here is part of the endorsement (bold added):

"Travis Co. Sheriff: Greg Hamilton

"Although incumbent Hamilton has recently been criticized for allowing too-generous jail access to federal immigration authorities, he has otherwise held hands off on immigration enforcement, saying it would detract from fighting crime, and he has in general continued and expanded the better traditions of local law enforcement in recent years. Specifically, his office quickly adopted the "cite-and-release" option for minor offenses made available under state law while the Austin Police Department was still dragging its feet – and he no doubt had an influence on the larger department to get with the program. ...."

Citation Option Featured in the Statesman: Police Union Gives Green Light

The Austin American-Statesman reports on the pending citation option for APD, but fails to mention the commitment by APD to have it in place by Nov. 3rd. APD has yet to explain to the public why they are delaying implementation of something that could have been in place a year ago.

When the Downtown Austin Alliance calls them up to implement the $150,000 "Downtown Quality of Life" initiative, two hours later they are giving a press conference to announce it's immediate implementation. Where there's a will, there's a way. All the supporting entities (see last post) are ready to go - do they merely lack printing up new citations? How long can that really take?

Meanwhile, violent crime is going up and APD is still solving less than half of the violent crime in this city.

Send an email to the Chief: we can't afford the continual delays!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Central Texas Officials Have No Objection to the Citation Option

APD Chief Acevedo put together a meeting of Central Texas criminal justice officials that took place on September 4, 2008 - the one mentioned in our previous blog and in Jordan Smith's story. The Chief brought together thirty-nine law enforcement and court officials from the tri-county region (no small feat in and of itself) and they agreed to work together on this and other improvements. They unanimously agreed that the citation option will be beneficial. Here is an excerpt from their official minutes:

"Issues with Cite and Release

• No objections to moving to cite and release
• Identification mechanism (need more access to technology)
• Need to bring whole legal system together to standardize
• Should look at other jurisdictions that have implemented it.
• Need consistency
• Want to reduce numbers going through booking
• Make sure Judge Evans is briefed before increasing numbers in Travis County (APD potentially 2000)
• Incorporate magistration through other courts – needs to be close to downtown booking
• Most Muni Courts don’t have fingerprint/ID equipment
• Citation has to be what is acceptable to the jurisdiction where it’s filed (same ticket for all three counties)
• Conviction has the same result – front end different not back end of process
• Increases effectiveness and efficiency for officers
• Law enforcement CAN implement without permission from County Attorney
• Need education piece so public understands change is to the front end
• Make sure field release doesn’t impact family violence cases – clear guidelines for officers
• Is a bond being set? It can be a violation of court rather than a failure to appear. Safety issues can be addressed. Bond can be revoked.
• It’s more involved than writing a class C citation
• Arrest for a driving offense - for example, can conditions be imposed? Not being done currently (check with Judge Evans)
• Need to be sure procedures are standardized

General agreement that it would have a positive impact"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Is Chief Acevedo announcing ANOTHER delay?

Jordan Smith continues her probing coverage of cite and release policy implementation at APD. We have been quite pleased since the Sept. 4th meeting to find that regional entities are unanimously on board. Now we wonder why the Chief waited a year to start working on implementation, claiming the delay was due to supposed reluctance by adjacent counties. They arrived at that meeting already in support...so whose relunctance is keeping us from reaching the finish line?

The afternoon of this same meeting amongst the counties, Chief Carter spoke to the Austin Public Safety Task Force and agreed to honor the resolution it passed, asking implementation to occur within 60 days -- which put the target at Nov. 3.

Now, it seems, they are looking at implemenation by year's end, almost 3 months away. The constant delays can't just be due to administrative hang-ups. Send the Chief an email and ask him why delay?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Misplaced Priorities = Lives Lost

Does our public safety budget reflect Austin's values?

The Austin City Council has approved the 2008/2009 budget that Chief Acevedo requested – including millions of new tax dollars for 24 new patrol officers and 61 police cars. As council member McCracken pointed out, 89% of our new spending this year is for public safety.

As our readers know, this money could fulfill other needs if APD stopped choosing to arrest people when they are legally authorized to give them a citation. Over 15,000 people are arrested in Austin every year for citeable offenses – that’s 37% of all APD arrests.

In the meantime, there seems to be widespread agreement that our EMS and fire department are perilously understaffed. EMS is not meeting its 4-minute response time goal and predicts the situation will get worse with an increase in calls next year. That $2.16 million 24-officer price tag could have provided much-needed paramedics. The American Heart Association says
that survival rate is reduced by 7-10% for every minute that lapses before a responder reaches a cardiac arrest patient. Those funds could have secured new fire department hires, making a dent in the "4 firefighters per engine" goal - the Public Safety Task Force endorsed a resolution last year to encourage the the city to meet that goal this cycle and we're nowhere near it. If a downtown high rise goes up in flames, we'll likely see death or serious injuries because the city says that we need more than that "4 per engine" goal on a high rise call.

This year Austin was placed on the list of US cities most likely to be at risk of a terrorist attack. If such risk were actually likely, why would we shirk EMS and Fire for a few more beat cops?

Similarly, violent crime is rising in Austin and APD isn't even solving half of them. Yet in the new budget APD set aside NO new money for investigation of crime, violent or otherwise … just more patrol officers to make more arrests.

Chief, we know that increasing arrest numbers every year gets APD more money but is our top priority safety or funding? Please implement the citation option to the fullest extent of the law (see our suggested language) so we can invest more tax dollars in real safety issues.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Violent Crime Rises in Austin While APD Makes Unnecessary Arrests

The FBI just reported that violent crime fell for the first time since 2005 and property crime fell again for the 5th year in a row nationwide. Check out Grits' report.

Meanwhile in Austin, as our report shows, violent crime is rising. APD is below the national average in cases cleared for both violent and property crimes.
Another report reveals that communities with lower incarceration, despite the myth, experience greater crime reductions.

More evidence we must put the Citation Option into policy asap and implement it FULLY!