The San Antonio Police Department is preparing to roll out its new cite-and-release program sometime this summer. Some City leaders and residents hope more public discussion happens before the policy is expanded.

The Council’s Public Safety Committee got a briefing Wednesday on both cite-and-release and about the streamlining of the magistrate process.

San Antonio Police has been running a cite-and-release program covering Class C misdemeanors. A wider program will include eligible Class A and Class B misdemeanors except for graffiti.

Briefing the Council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, Police Chief William McManus said officers would still be able to decide on site whether to make an arrest.

Citing-and-releasing, McManus added, allows officers to return to the field sooner and removes the stigma of arrest for offenders.

“This is a [Bexar County District Attorney] program allowed by the State’s code of criminal procedure. As long as the [DA] has adopted it, and as long we maintain discretion whether to issue a citation or arrest a person, that’s what we’re going to do,” McManus said.

McManus said he has researched data from other police departments with a cite-and-release program and saw that, on average, it takes an officer about 35 minutes to get back on patrol after citing an offender.

Eligible offenders who are cited and released would have up to 90 days to report to the Bexar County Re-entry Services Center where the DA’s Office will help determine whether they are eligible for a jail diversion program.

District Attorney Joe Gonzales said his office still reserves the right to file a case against offenders unwilling to cooperate with re-entry and a diversion program.

“You keep hearing about individuals who are being cited rather than being arrested, but it’s officers on the street who will make that call,” Gonzales said.

McManus also said it’s important that a police officer does not have any additional burden when deciding whether to arrest somebody.

“Because of that, we’re not requiring supervisory approval to make an arrest. We don’t do it in any other case, and we’re not going to do it now,” he added.

But Committee and Council members Clayton Perry (D10) and Rey Saldaña (D4) expressed some concerns. Perry said SAPD must provide detailed figures to prove cite-and-release will help save taxpayer money on arrests, keep residents safe, and reduce the number of low-level repeat offenders.

“I was skeptical about this program and, to tell you the truth, I’m still skeptical,” Perry said. “We don’t have any statistics, and I asked last time if there were statistics from other cities to see what the success of this program is there, and there aren’t any.”

Saldaña said he agrees with officer discretion. But he hopes future Council members will see detailed data on what type of guidance a police officer gets in deciding whether to cite or arrest an offender.

“I, as a Council person and as a policymaker, would like to see that story more fully,” he added.

McManus said the police handbook will be revised to require officers to indicate the reason for an arrest. The handbook will also identify situations in which a citation should not be issued.

Committee and Council members John Courage (D9) and Greg Brockhouse (D6) said they support cite-and-release. Courage said he was encouraged to hear that the new policy would apply to both SAPD and to sheriff’s deputies.

“I think we need to have consistency across the board,” Courage added. He also said consideration must be given to people, particularly teenagers, who may not be carrying a valid form of identification when questioned by an officer.

Brockhouse said he supports the new policy because it would help officers to return to the streets quicker, as well as help vulnerable individuals.

“When you’re training [officers] and teaching them about racial profiling, persons of color, LGBTQ – all that needs to be upfront,” he added.

Lacy Wallace with the Texas Organizing Project recalled how her mentally ill son was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana and for resisting arrest in December 2016.

“This situation could have been avoided if cite-and-release had been implemented,” Wallace said.

According to McManus, police officers will receive updated policy information via a training video. He also said SAPD will conduct some community meetings and use social media to inform the public about the new policy.

John Bull, presiding judge at San Antonio’s municipal court, gave a brief update on the consolidation of the City and County’s magistrate services.

An eight-month contract began May 1, handing County magistration responsibilities to the City.

Bull referenced one of the newer measures – requiring that people detained by the County be processed in person or via video by city magistrate judges. Such individuals are also given wider access to public defenders.

The move followed the death of Jack Ule, a homeless man who died in custody April 18 after he was unable to post bail on his $500 bond. Ule had been taken into custody April 4 on a criminal trespass charge.

Janice Dotson-Stephens, another Bexar County Jail inmate, died last December after she was unable to make bond on a criminal trespass charge. Dotson-Stephens, like Ule, had a schizophrenia diagnosis.

“Our City judges are ordering mental health evaluations on people that come before our judges to avert the problems that have come up before, where homeless individuals have been lost in the County facility or have died,” Bull said.

Bull provided some statistics from the City’s Frank Wing Municipal Court building. Authorities there magistrated a total of five capital felonies, 4,176 first through third-degree felonies, 3,089 State jail felonies, and 10,748 Class A and Class B misdemeanors between Dec. 1, 2018, and May 16 of this year. The same facility also magistrated nearly 8,200 Class C misdemeanors in the same time frame.

Bull said the magistrate consolidation is also another step toward reducing the time that arrestees spend at the Frank Wing building, which has long been a source of consternation for local officials.

“The Frank Wing facility was used as an extended holding facility that it was never envisioned to be,” he added.

Committee members offered no discussion or questions following Bull’s presentation.

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