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.