SAN MARCOS, Texas - As San Marcos' police Chief Stan Standridge settles into his first day at the head of a new department, criminal justice groups including Mano Amiga, the local NAACP, Texas Rising, and Move Texas made sure the new chief knows exactly where they stand.
"We didn't necessarily expect for him to, on his first day, just set everything aside and meet with us. But we did want to let him know, from the first day, that as a group that has built community support for this policy to eliminate unnecessary arrests, that this should be on his radar," said Jordan Buckley with Mano Amiga.
After activists spent months fighting for it, San Marcos became the first Texas city to require by law that cite and release be used for certain offenses.
Since May 31, those charged with low-level, non-violent crimes were eligible to be ticketed and released instead of taken to jail. "We're just hopeful that he'll be a champion of this policy, and that he'll be proud of it. And that San Marcos will really be a leader among law enforcement across the state in keeping residents out of jail when they truly don't need to be there," Buckley said.
The policy was implemented at a time when jail inmates and staff had to face an additional threat, even steel doors couldn't keep COVID-19 out.
Another reason jailing people for citation eligible offenses would be putting them at unnecessary risk if you ask Mano Amiga. "We have been predicting that jails were going to be overcrowded and they were going to be these super spreader centers for this virus. And that has proven to be true," said Samantha Benevides, another member of Mano Amiga.
Mano Amiga said, during deliberation of the cite and release ordinance, the San Marcos Police Officers Association said in an email to City Council that they would stop giving warnings and instead cite everyone for the offenses included in the law. Because data was skewed during the pandemic, it's not clear if that happened.
"We're asking for the chief to clarify, is he going to have his officers abide by the ordinance and continue to use their discretion to offer warnings? Or are they needlessly criminalizing people for low-level petty offenses, like they promised to do in their letter to council?" Buckley said.
A San Marcos spokesperson said the chief could not comment on the issue as it is his first day on the job there. Instead, they offered to have him address it in early December.