Chief William McManus
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City Council’s Public Safety Committee agreed Thursday that the full Council should be briefed on how the San Antonio Police Department plans to expand its cite-and-release program.

Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh suggested bringing the item to a Council B session sometime in January. He made the proposal after Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) moved to vote on the policy change.

But according to Thursday’s meeting agenda, the committee was to get another update on the issue, not formally act on it. First Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Provencio confirmed to the committee that City staff did not recommend any official action on the matter yet.

Brockhouse’s motion for a vote was in part prompted by remarks by committee chair and Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2), who said because the cite-and-release program’s expansion was a procedural change, SAPD should go on with preparations to implement the revised policy.

Even so, full implementation will not happen until after the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office has finished providing input.

District Attorney-elect Joe Gonzales has indicated his full support for changes in the program that will allow police officers greater discretion on whether to make an arrest on a certain nonviolent offense.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus briefed the Public Safety Committee in November about the planned policy revisions, which he said would yield two benefits: reducing police officers’ time spent with transportation and paperwork for misdemeanor arrests and helping offenders, some of whom may have financial trouble, get out of jail on bond.

San Antonio Police has been operating the cite-and-release program on a pilot basis. Its expansion would cover eligible Class A and Class B misdemeanors except for graffiti.

McManus on Thursday re-emphasized that officers on site would have discretion over whether to make an arrest in each instance: “Broad discretion is a non-negotiable for me.”

The County, as part of this effort, would make some adjustments in its judicial system and diversion programs to accommodate offenders who get citations instead of being arrested.

McManus said he recently arrested a homeless man who has been frequently taken into custody for minor offenses, but has had no money for bail or to pay off his tickets. McManus vouched for the man and asked the magistrate to dismiss the previous citations. The judge did so.

“It’s nothing but a vicious cycle for [such offenders],” McManus said.

Nearly all the committee’s members voiced support for the policy change. Councilman John Courage (D9), however, asked whether the change would lead to an increase of outstanding warrants, which may in turn burden the officers’ workload.

McManus said offenders who are cited and released must still make a court appearance or face the consequences, so there is no reason to think an offender has gotten off the hook.

“If you don’t appear [in court], there’s going to be a warrant for your arrest,” he said.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said she liked how the program expansion considers homeless and low-income individuals who might get jailed on a misdemeanor. Advocates of expanding the cite-and-release policy argue that an arrest and bond payment can cause disruptive repercussions for low-level offenders.

“We should not be ruining people’s lives for not having money,” she said.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7)
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said the basic concept of a second chance is nice. But because there’s a lack of data showing the effectiveness of cite-and-release programs elsewhere, Perry said he’s reluctant to endorse the changes.

He said his constituents would push back against any changes unless the City shows taxpayers that cite-and-release will make them feel safer and keep more officers on the street longer.

“There’s expectations of our taxpaying public that we’ve gotten the right information out to them, and that [we] haven’t gotten the community’s input on this,” Perry said.

Brockhouse said he supports the change, but thought an official vote by the public safety committee and by the full City Council would be helpful before going forward with the policy revisions. He also disagreed with characterization by McManus and Shaw that the changes were merely procedural.

Shaw, who is resigning from the City Council to become an associate Bexar County district court judge, said he wants to see SAPD prepare to go forward. “I don’t want this to linger,” he said.

Brockhouse said he’d rather have the entire Council fully informed about the changes. “Every Council member is going to have answer for this,” he said.

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.