Council Member Casar hoping to reduce racial disparities with new APD policy

District 4 Austin City Council Member Greg Casar tells Fox 7, Item 73 on next week's agenda is a resolution for a new policy at the Austin Police Department -- eliminating unnecessary arrests for non-violent misdemeanors like possession of marijuana, invalid license, petty theft.

Casar says officers have a choice whether to give you a citation or book you in jail.  

"The fact of the matter is the vast majority of people who are caught for low-level possession of marijuana in this city just get a citation, however there are some people that are being arrested and the fact of the matter is the data shows that if you are a black resident of Austin it is 7 times more likely that you would be getting arrested than white residents of Austin," Casar said.  

This change in the rules wouldn't apply to situations involving violence.

"Of course if an arrest is still necessary because somebody is in some immediate danger that it doesn't make sense to just write the person a ticket then the policy wouldn't change there," Casar said.  

Wayne Vincent is a retired police officer and former president of the Austin Police Association.  He says officers love "field release," basically not making an arrest, because it doesn't tie them up and they don't have to put someone in jail.  

"Normally if there is no proper ID, if there's some other crimes that may be afoot or if you issue a field release and you believe a crime is still going to commit after you leave then arrest is appropriate.  Take that option away and it's just not a good idea," Vincent said.  

Ken Casaday, the current president of the Austin Police Association says:

"Discretion is a very important tool for officers to have.  Officers make tough decisions every day in situations that require discretion.  

It's our understanding that Chief Manley and Assistant Chief Gay have been working with Councilman Casar on this topic.  This resolution would require Chief Manley to look at other options instead of a custody arrest when dealing with certain misdemeanor offenses.  Let's not forget that victims of crime and property owners have the right to be protected.  

That being said Chief Manley makes policy.  So, any changes made to policy would fall squarely on City Council and the Chief.  We hope the Chief makes a wise decision when dealing with this issue."

Council Member Casar's Item 74 is about immigration enforcement within APD.  Specifically the "show me your papers" provision of SB4 that doesn't prohibit officers from asking about legal status.

"What a lot of people don't know in the community is that through the legal battles against Senate Bill 4 we now know that police officers can tell people though that they don't have to answer that question.  As a matter of fact police officers aren't trained to be immigration officers," Casar said.

"Making police officers paralegals and giving legal advice to citizens out there is just not a good idea.  Cops are expected now to be mental health professionals, marriage counselors.  Trying to make them semi-lawyers I think is a little overwhelming for the job they already have to do," Vincent said.

Again both of those items are on next week's agenda.  

Casar is hoping they will be taken up at the same time.