A plan by the Austin police to cite and release instead of arrest people some petty criminal charges is said to be an efficient use of police officers time, according to Austin, TX police Chief Art Acevedo. The new police will give officers discretion of who they wish to arrest, and who they will simply write a criminal citation, similar to a traffic ticket. A similar policy is already in use in Dallas.
The criminal citations will be used for Texas misdemeanor charges such as criminal mischief, driving on a suspended license, and theft under $500. Being issued a summons or citation instead of being arrested does not reduce the legal penalties for these offenses, but will prevent defendants from being arrested on the spot, booked, and possibly spending a night in jail. The goal is to free up police officer’s time to continue patrolling and other work that enhances public safety.
It’s an open question whether this will create an incentive for police to more aggressively charge and cite criminal offenses, since they will have more time to do so, with less administrative overhead and hassle.
And is this effort a burden shift onto the courts? Will there be more court hearings required to establish probable cause for these arrests? That may be why district attorneys such as Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley are against it.
But overall, it does sounds like a reasonable program to increase the efficiency of police officers, while making things simpler and less onerous for someone who happens to be accused of a minor misdemeanor criminal offense.
Update: More commentary on cite and release here.
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