(From left) District Attorney Joe Gonzales, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Bexar County Director of the Office of Criminal Justice Mike Lozito
(From left) District Attorney Joe Gonzales, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, and Bexar County Office of Criminal Justice Director Mike Lozito announce the launch of the cite-and-release program. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Starting Monday, officers from the San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office will begin ticketing people for low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as possessing small amounts of marijuana or driving with an invalid license.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said at a Friday news conference that the conversation about implementing a cite-and-release program started a few years ago.

“Cite-and-release has been a long time coming. … This was not a simple task to get this off the ground,” he said.

Under the program, officers can decide to ticket someone for a low-level offense instead of making an arrest. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said qualifying offenses include possessing a small amount of marijuana, theft of an item worth between $50 and $500, and driving with an invalid license.

A person who gets a citation can report to the Bexar County Reentry Services Center downtown between 10 and 30 days after receiving the ticket. Pretrial services and district attorney staff will look at the cited individual’s record for past violent offenses and evaluate whether that person qualifies for the cite-and-release program. If so, the person is given 60 days to fulfill any required action to avoid an arrest record, such as attending a substance abuse class or doing community service.

Representatives from the public defender’s office also will be available at the reentry center.

“Basically, we’re watching out for the rights of the people who were being cited,” said Bexar County Chief Public Defender Michael Young.

People with citations can report to the reentry center on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They also will have access to other services provided by the re-entry center, which for the past three years has been giving previously incarcerated people help with housing, employment, and utility payments.

Gonzales emphasized that the new program is not supposed to affect police officers’ or sheriff’s deputies’ responsibility to enforce the law. Officers still have the option to make arrests for the offenses covered by the cite-and-release program, he said. And if a person is arrested, Gonzales’s office would still review the case and decide whether or not to prosecute.

“Can we help them avoid a conviction if possible? That’s the main goal of this,” he said.

If a person fails to show up for evaluation or does not complete his or her mandated service, an arrest warrant can then be filed, Gonzales explained.

“If they show up on the 61st day because they had health care issues or child care issues, or maybe they couldn’t get off of their job, we’ll work with them,” Gonzales said. “But it’s the individual that just blows it off that says, ‘I’m not interested, I don’t want to do this,’ then we exercise our prerogative and we file the case with the court.”

SAPD, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and the district attorney’s office collaborated to streamline the cite-and-release process. SAPD had been tinkering with its own cite-and-release program, and the sheriff’s office has run a pilot program since 2018.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said during the first year of cite and release, about 60 percent of individuals given citations did not show up to be evaluated. His department is on track to see the no-show rates tick down to 50 percent. Salazar hypothesized that people may have been confused or afraid of what going to the Bexar County Jail to review their citations meant.

“I gotta think it’s a learning curve,” he said.

Several other municipalities within Bexar County are working on creating their own citation programs to participate in cite-and-release, Gonzales said.

“We have 35-plus different law enforcement agencies in Bexar County,” he said. “Some of them are very eager to jump on board and participate, and they’re doing what they can to become partners.”

Implementing a cite-and-release program has always been one of Gonzales’s priorities, he said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.