KYLE, Texas - A local criminal justice reform group is pushing for changes at the Kyle Police Department.
Mano Amiga, a grassroots organization, is demanding Kyle police officers stop arresting people for citation eligible offenses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far in 2020, more than 34 people have been arrested by Kyle police for misdemeanor crimes considered eligible for cite and release. That includes offenses like misdemeanor possession of marijuana, driving while license invalid, and theft less than $350.
“It's putting their health in danger, their lives in danger and we just don't believe that citation eligible offenses should constitute a death sentence,” said Samantha Benavides, campaign fellow with Mano Amiga.
Twelve of those arrests followed Hays County's announcement of a public health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the county judge signed that order, 402 COVID-19 tests have been conducted on inmates at the Hays County Jail, more than a quarter of them came back positive.
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“We think it's probably the most dangerous building, regarding COVID, in this county. And so, sending people there on citation eligible offenses, offenses that they could and should be issued a citation for, it's just not right,” Benavides said.
Mano Amiga is now trying to convince Kyle city leaders to follow San Marcos' lead and make cite and release a law, instead of leaving it up to officer discretion.
“So we believe that a cite and release ordinance, which would guide officers to do what state law already allows them to do, is just the lowest hanging fruit and the most common sense reform that our lawmakers can deliver,” said Benavides.
In a statement Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett writes:
"Our department is committed to serving the residents of Kyle and maintaining the trust of our community, and we support avoiding unnecessary arrests through cite-and-release programs. It’s important to keep in mind that there are a number of issues that could disqualify a person for cite and release, and our officers consider those factors along with the current circumstances and prior criminal history of an individual when making an arrest.
The Kyle PD is in the process of updating its ticketing technology, which will provide officers with the ability to cite and release without writing a paper ticket by hand. We received approval from City Council this summer to move forward with this technology upgrade, and our order is currently being processed by Brazos Technology. We anticipate the new software will be in place by the end of the year."
Beginning in September Kyle PD will also start using a cite and divert program. That will allow eligible people to complete requirements determined by a prosecutor in order to keep their record clean by avoiding arrest and court.
However, even under cite and divert, if an officer believes an arrest would be more appropriate, they have discretion to do that.