While Bexar County sheriff’s deputies may have the option to issue tickets for non-violent misdemeanors such as marijuana possession, the San Antonio Police Department is not immediately following suit, Chief William McManus said Thursday.
“Nothing has changed in our operating procedures right now,” McManus told the Rivard Report.
Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood announced Wednesday that sheriff’s deputies would be given the option to treat five Class B misdemeanors as citable offenses rather than ones for which an accused person would be sent to jail. Such misdemeanors include possession of marijuana under four ounces.
LaHood told the Rivard Report on Thursday that the cite and release pilot program will be evaluated and refined after 60 days. He said he would then present data and guidelines to the other 48 law enforcement agencies within Bexar County, including SAPD and the police departments of local municipalities.
“The reason why we’ve only been talking to Bexar County right now and the Sheriff’s Department is because they’re the ones we’ve been working with on the computer system,” LaHood said. “We’re going to try it with them first, and then see how it works out for those 60 days.”
At the time of the announcement, LaHood said the San Antonio Police Department “verbally” expressed interest in utilizing the program.
McManus told the Rivard Report that San Antonio police officers would begin using the same discretion as sheriff’s deputies. However he did not know when SAPD expected to implement the cite and release program, saying there is a considerable amount of logistical work and training required to properly introduce the new procedure.
SAPD officers made more than 5,600 marijuana-related arrests in 2015 and 2016, according to the San Antonio Police Department. Sandra Pickell, a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office representative, said the County could not provide similar data because it keeps information only on aggregate narcotics violations, such as total grams seized in a year.
Included in Bexar County’s cite and release program are criminal mischief and property damage, property theft, and theft of service – all valued at less than $750 – and driving with an invalid license. Possession of synthetic marijuana and graffiti will remain jailable offenses.
Like Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, McManus said the new program does not mean law enforcement officers are required to issue citations for the specified misdemeanors; rather, it provides law enforcement the opportunity to better utilize its resources, such as time and jail space.
“This is all about giving officers discretion whether to cite or release,” McManus said. “The result that we hope for is that in the right circumstances, it will give officers more time on the street as opposed to getting tied up in arrests.”
The police chiefs of Alamo Heights and Olmos Park told the Rivard Report on Wednesday that their departments will not participate in the program.