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 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!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Austin's Neighborhoods Call for Citation Option

More wonderful news ~ the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) voted to endorse the Citation Option! We are grateful to the ANC, which represents almost all neighborhoods in the city, for their support in making Austin a better place. ANC rocks!

Public Safety Taskforce Officially Urges Chief to Act

Great news! Yesterday afternoon the City of Austin Public Safety Taskforce passed this resolution asking Chief Acevedo to implement the Citation Option within 60 days:

WHEREAS, state law allows for law enforcement officers to issue citations instead of arrest and book people into jail over Class C Misdemeanor charges and as of Sept., 1, 2007, select Class A and Class B misdemeanor charges (HB2391, 80(R); Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Articles 14.06 and 15.17), which serves to free officers and courts from spending excess time on processing unnecessary arrests as well as free up much needed space in jails;

WHEREAS, many entities throughout Texas have implemented and are implementing the "Citation Option" including the Travis County Sheriff's office so that two inconsistent policies now exist in the County where the City of Austin overlaps; NOW THEREFORE,


Recommends Police Chief Acevedo implement the Citation Option within 60 days of passage of this resolution and that he update APD's General Orders accordingly.
I want to thank my colleagues on the City of Austin Public Safety Taskforce for taking up this important issue. Please join me in sending props to Chief Acevedo for agreeing with the resolution and urge him to take it seriously and put our recommended written policy in place!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fewer Arrests, not More Officers!

Our officers are some of the highest paid in the country. They are spending hours on end downtown doing paperwork unnecessarily, and now our Chief has ordered them to give tickets and arrest (on Class C misdemeanor charges) homeless people while 58% of violent crime and 88% of property crime goes unsolved.

The City of Austin will, next week, approve the 2008/2009 budget which includes cuts in several departments to afford adding 24 new officers and 61 cars to APD. But we don’t NEED them! If the Chief is actually committed to implementing the Citation Option as he says, why didn’t he present it as a “Cost Savings Initiative” (on page 20)?

APD is about to get almost $4 million more in addition to their huge new labor contract (24 officers x $90,000 = $2,160,000, and 61 police cars x $27,500 (p.44) = $1,677,500) and since we know we can save at least $5.4 million a year by implementing the Citation Option …if we implemented the citation option we wouldn’t need to hire one more officer or buy one more car! Our officers (and their cars) would no longer be spending large blocks of their on-duty time booking people on unnecessary arrests. Instead, they’d could try to solve some of the 58% of Austin's unsolved violent crimes. It would be nice if some of our violent criminals were not still out on the street committing further crime.

Perhaps then too, EMS could have its Cadet Academy training this year; the seriously understaffed parks department wouldn’t have to put a freeze on 24 vacancies; and we wouldn’t have to cut back library hours and they could afford proper security and janitorial services.

Council says by the time one speaks at the public hearing for the budget, as I did last Thursday, it’s too late to change their mind on these very important matters. If you think that shouldn’t be the case, contact your city council members NOW to tell them they have the power of the purse to stop excessive spending on low-level offenses so that the crime in our City that actually affects the PUBLIC’s SAFETY can be better addressed. Tell them: “no more officers or cars until Chief Acevedo implements the Citation Option!"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

How much more are you willing to pay in taxes to cover APD's optional arrests?

How much of your gasoline and grocery budget will you set aside for the tax man this year because of Austin police Chief Acevedo's decision to have Austin police officers arrest over 15,000 people every year in Austin, 37% of all of APD's arrests, when the Texas legislature says those people could have received a citation?

Thanks to Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast, and to the Austin American Statesman Editorial Board, for pointing out that the City of Austin and the Travis County budget are both being strained by the police.

If Austin police get the huge raises they are demanding, that will mean more cuts in library hours, parks, social services and other city functions next year, or higher city taxes. At the same time, Travis County is proposing to raise taxes to pay for increased incarceration caused by APD's optional arrests.

How much more do you want to pay for Chief Acevedo's unnecessary arrests? When the city pays police more, we lose library, parks and road money. When you pay more in taxes, you have less for groceries, gasoline, electricity and the rest of life's necessities. ... All so police can brag about high arrest numbers without solving even half of the violent crime in this town.

You can make a difference! Click here to contact Chief Acevedo - let him know it's time to stop wasting time and money with unnecessary arrests.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New Citation Option Report Released Today!

Millions Wasted Every Year as Public Safety is Compromised

Today at noon, we released a report that illustrates how at the apex of the budgeting cycle, and as police union officials negotiate for their labor contract with the City, we don't need more officers. By prioritizing how police respond to offenses, we can save money and improve public safety by keeping officers on the street to address Austin's most serious public safety needs.

Chief Acevedo should keep APD officers, who make about $90,000/yr. average before bonuses, busy solving our serious crime problems. It turns out that 37% of all Austin Police Department (APD) arrests qualify for the Citation Option! In the meantime, APD is only clearing 42% of the violent crimes in Austin, and 12% of our property crimes.

High arrest numbers allow APD to compete for money from the federal government and bargain for more money from Austin taxpayers in their labor contract.

Please send Chief Acevedo an email or call him and ask him to implement the Citation Option now! We will update you here as the situation develops.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

One City, One Chief, One Policy!

The police chief continues to claim he is not able to implement the citation option because small bits of Austin are in Hays and Williamson counties. He repeats, "we can't have three policies," but we don't NEED three policies. Austin police have jurisdiction in every part of the City and Austin just needs one clear policy. Hays County Sheriff deputies can follow whichever policy they choose, just like Travis County has.

In fact, the Travis County Sheriff is implementing the Citation Option, Chief, so it looks like, thanks to you, we currently have two policies in this city. An Austinite who is stopped by APD will be arrested and incarcerated but the same person stopped by the Travis County Sheriff Department will be cited and released.

When the Chief says "he can't" it means "he won't." This long-awaited meeting with our neighboring counties, that won't happen until September, is a delay tactic.

Please contact the Chief today and ask him to stop the unnecessary delays city/one chief/one policy!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chief Acevedo sets first meeting for after the new labor contract is signed!

Chief Acevedo said he wants to meet with Hays and Williamson County officials before he implements the Citation Option and after months of stalling he FINALLY set up the first meeting ... but it's in September!

The new state law allowing the Citation Option was finalized in June, 2007, and went into effect September 1, 2007. Chief Acevedo has set up his first meeting about it for September 4, 2008. Why the delay? Could it be because Austin Police Department is set to have its new labor contract signed with the city by then? Does APD want taxpayers to pay for all of their unnecessary arrests for the next few years?

Who will be at this meeting and what are they there to discuss? State law gives the Chief authority to implement the Citation Option with the stroke of a pen. Weeks ago APD said they plan to meet with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley to ask for his permission. We hope not. The Williamson County District Attorney doesn't handle misdemeanors, only felonies, so he has no business at such a meeting. We will let you know if we find out the guest list or the agenda for the September meeting.

There is NO reason to wait to implement the Citation Option. Please help by letting the Chief know that we do not want meeting after meeting while thousands of Austinites continue to be arrested and jailed for no reason in the meantime. Ask Chief Acevedo to put the Citation Option in place now!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Please ask your organization to endorse the Citation Option!

Some great organizations have endorsed the Citation Option:
  • ACLU of Texas, Central Texas Chapter
  • Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition (a coalition of dozens of organizations)
  • City of Austin Human Rights Commission
  • Grits for Breakfast
  • LULAC, District 7
  • LULAC, District 12
  • Texas Civil Rights Project
  • Texas Jail Project

The City of Austin Commission on Immigrant Affairs will meet tomorrow night to vote on a similar resolution, and we've heard that several other organizations are meeting to consider an endorsement.

These groups agree that APD should have an official Citation Option policy in place. Some organizations are seeing APD’s failure to implement the Citation Option as directly related to the current meet and confer negotiations - the budget crunch should have us looking at where we can tighten our belts, not entertaining hiring more officers we don’t need because APD likes to increase their arrest numbers by arresting people unnecessarily. Neighborhood groups want the officers we do have patrolling, not down at the jail for hours doing paperwork on someone who’s license was expired or who was caught with a joint.

Take a look at the organizations that supported the Citation Option bill (HB2391) at the Texas Legislature last year:

  • Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT)
  • Travis County Commissioners Court
  • Travis County Sheriff's Office
  • Travis County Sheriff's Law Enforcement Association
  • Houston Police Officers Union
  • Texas State Lodge & Fraternal Order of Police
  • Texas Conference of Urban Counties
  • Texans for Public Safety Solutions
  • Texas Public Policy Foundation, Center for Effective Justice
  • Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
  • Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
  • Texas Fair Defense Project
  • American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

With this amazing group supporting the Citation Option at the state and local level … Will you ask your organization to endorse? Have we missed organizations that have already voted to endorse? Please let us know if we should add your org to the list or if you know of a group we should contact!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What are they hiding?

The City of Austin's responses to our public information requests have trickled in, but we still lack an important piece: the cost to Austin taxpayers each time APD chooses to arrest, book and incarcerate a person whom they could have given a citation.

Not only did
we request this information, but so did the chair of the City's Public Safety Task Force (PSTF), Councilmember Mike Martinez, at the June 2nd meeting. APD was charged with bringing this info to the July 7 meeting, but lo and behold that meeting has been canceled so APD got a reprieve until the next PSTF meeting on August 4th. Meanwhile, the contract negotiations between the police union and the City are at their apex with the union continuing the long-held mantra "we need more staff!"

Why would APD hide these costs? Is it because they know that we might be able to make a VERY strong case that implementing the Citation Option would save taxpayers from having to foot a public safety bill we simply cannot afford? It's hard to believe that officers on the street would want to continue to arrest people when they could just give them a citation, freeing up their time to handle more serious issues. It's hard to believe that the City would want to negotiate to sacrifice important social services and infrastructure our city needs in favor of more police we don't need. This act would not only strain the budget, but increase liability by unnecessarily placing people in jail. Our new City Manager seems like a reasonable, fiscally conservative and non-politicized man. Hopefully, the outcome of the negotiations will reveal these observations to be true.

Meanwhile, who at the City is standing in the way of revealing the costs of APD's unnecessary arrests?

Feel free to make your own requests of this information to our City Manager, Mayor and Councilmembers. Unless they know that Austin
ites care about how their tax dollars are spent, they may not act in the public's best interest. They'll act in the interest of those closest to them ... with all of their political intentions.

Learn more here and send the Chief an email asking him to implement the Citation Option!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What does it mean when Austin police measure success by the number of arrests?

Yesterday’s story in the Statesman highlights the sad fact that Austin police continue to measure success by the number of arrests. A perverse incentive, like the proverbial ambulance-chasing lawyer who hopes that more people are severely injured each year, this measure of success encourages police to arrest more people every year. The only way they can succeed by this standard is if crime goes up, or if they just arrest and incarcerate more and more people who don’t need to be arrested.

Conveniently, it also feeds into their current labor contract negotiations and the false premise that Austin police need more money. Austin’s crime rate is on par with comparable cities. With our “high” number of 30 murders per year, we are not in the same league with other cities like Washington DC or Baltimore which suffer hundreds of murders each year. Even Fort Worth, which is less populated than Austin, had almost twice as many murders as Austin last year. It’s time that we question the methodology and the claims made by our police when they boast about making more arrests every year.

National long-term aggregate research shows that for nonviolent offenders, arresting them and locking them up increases their criminal behavior.

Austin police could spend more time solving serious crime right now, for free, by implementing the citation option but they refuse to do so. We want to know how many nonviolent individuals were arrested and incarcerated in Austin when they could have simply been cited and released under the new state law which has been in effect since September 1, 2007. Austin police refuse to implement the citation option thus wasting taxpayer money, taking thousands of police off the streets for hours at a time, and unnecessarily exposing nonviolent offenders to violent ones. The city is due to respond to our open records request about this on Friday so we will let you know.

Let’s take a closer look before Austin taxpayers give police a free pass again and get treated like a bottomless ATM machine. An increase in arrests is more an indication of failure than success. Austin police could reduce crime, save taxpayers money and reduce racial profiling right now by implementing the citation option. Click here to learn more and send an email to Chief Acevedo asking him to fully implement the citation option in Austin.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Austin Public Safety Task Force Considers the Citation Option

Yesterday evening, instead of appearing before the Austin Public Safety Task Force in person, the Chief of police sent a person from his staff who had little, if any, background with the policy.  The officer explained that the police are still trying to set a meeting with the district attorney from Williamson County and the district attorney from Hays County so they can agree on a process for the citation option.  When asked why APD would be discussing this with the district attorney, and not the county attorney who handles misdemeanors, the officer had no idea.  (Most district attorneys only handle felonies, but those who follow criminal justice at the Texas legislature know that the Williamson County District Attorney will do everything he can to stop the citation option from going into effect.)

The good news is that the Austin Public Safety Task Force obtained an agreement that the police will return for their next meeting with concrete data, specifically:
- how many people are arrested and jailed each year in Austin when they could be given a citation,
- how much these optional arrests and incarcerations are costing the city  (Council Member Mike Martinez made it clear that he wants to see all costs, including all of the officer time which is lost, costs of arrest, costs of magistrate court and municipal judge time, costs of incarceration, etc.), and
- the racial breakdown of all of these optional arrests and incarcerations that the Austin police choose to make.

The police made it clear that they do NOT need to obtain permission from Hays or Williamson county to move forward with the citation option.  They say they are simply attempting to work it out in good faith and by consensus.  We don't know how much longer the Austin police will be willing to wait on the Williamson County DA, but the state law allowing the citation option has already been in place for 8 months.  How many tax dollars have already been wasted and how many lives have already been impacted?

Please stay tuned ~ we will update you as things develop!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chief Acevedo to Report on the Citation Option Today

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo will provide an update to the Austin Public Safety Task Force today on the citation option.  Check out the meeting in person at City Hall today at 4pm, or watch for it later on Ch. 6 if you can't make it.  We will have a complete update here also.  Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Citation Not Deportation!

Thank you for visiting our new blog!  We want to know what you think.

Here is why we believe Austin police should implement the citation option and stop arresting Austinites unnecessarily:

·    Keep family members away from ICE.  Even though Austin has a “safe city” ordinance to protect the health and safety of guest workers and their families, our Sheriff entered an agreement to allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to systematically detain immigrants who are checked in to our jail.  This has already resulted in a 400% increase in detainees, and is creating an atmosphere of fear of the police even among victims of violent crime.  If Austin police implement the citation option, thousands of people will avoid the ICE screening each year and police can begin to rebuild trust in the immigrant community.

·    Keep officers on the street. Every arrest takes at least one officer off the street for 3-4 hours.  Austin police pressure the city for more officers as they negotiate their labor contract, but why do they choose to sacrifice patrol time to book people into jail who do not need to be there?  The citation option keeps officers on the street addressing real crime.  It would be like getting lots of new officers for Austin at no extra cost to taxpayers, or the savings could be used for much-needed city infrastructure and social services.

·    Stop racial profiling.  In Austin, a person with black skin is 31 times more likely to be incarcerated than a person with white skin for the same drug crimes (both groups use illegal drugs at the same rate).  These numbers raise troubling questions about how Austin police currently exercise their discretion about whom to take to jail.  The Austin community cannot allow this racial injustice to continue without drawing a line.

·    Give Travis County taxpayers relief. While Austin police are arresting and booking people in jail who they could have issued a citation, jail overcrowding is one of our county’s biggest and most expensive problems.  If our police agencies do not preserve jail for people who commit serious crimes, taxpayers will continue to be treated like a bottomless ATM machine.

The citation option should apply to all misdemeanors where state law allows the officer to issue a citation – almost all Class C misdemeanors and certain 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).  Arrest will always be an option if the suspect presents a danger to self or others.

The Travis County Sheriff, Dallas Police and many others use the citation option … Why not Austin? 

  • Call Chief Art Acevedo at 512-974-5051 and ask him to choose Citation Not Deportation!
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  • Let us know what you think by commenting to this blog post.  We want to hear from you!