'Freedom city' policies bring misdemeanor arrests down by more than 60 percent

The 'Freedom city' policies were policies activists in Austin were trying to get passed for a long time. The Austin City Council passed it last year, which eliminates discretionary arrests for some low level offenses like possession of small amounts of pot, or driving with an invalid license.

Before the policies, police could take you to jail for those offenses. "What we know is that our criminal justice system disproportionately impacts low income, working poor, people of color, we know there are racial biases that exits," said Jose Garza, co-executive director of Workers Defense Project.

Since this implementation last year, the Austin Police Department has been required to submit reports detailing any collaboration with ICE, and also report any discretionary arrests.

Since the policies were enacted, Class C misdemeanor arrests decreased by 63 percent.

"We've made some important progress, and we are appreciative of that progress, but we also have work that we have to do. One year in, we've seen the power that every day people have to decrease racial disparities, we've seen discretionary arrests for Class C misdemeanors are down, racial disparities for the Latino community are down, they are down slightly for the black community but not as much as they need to be," said Garza.

According to the Austin Police Department's report, racial inequities in these arrests decreased but only slightly. The Hispanic community accounted for about 36 percent of discretionary arrests before this year, going down to 29 percent. Black people accounted for 31 percent and now they account for 27 percent, still overrepresented, to be just 8 percent of Austin's population.

"The black community and Latino community, it's still disproportional because of the population here in Austin," said Chantel Pridgon, Grassroots Leadership. Pridgon said she experienced a low level arrest firsthand. She says she was arrested for having an invalid license.

"I got sick, I wasn't able to pay my bills on time, that's what lead to that. I was with my kids, my entire family so it was just a sad piece. I had never been to jail before, I was taken down to Del Valle. I was in jail for 12 hours. I was born in Hawaii they thought I was an immigrant," she said.

She and others directly impacted are glad they see the downward trend, but police and the community must work together to make the disparities disappear. "One of the things that affects our community in a large percentage is driving with an invalid licenses or driving without a license," said Alicia Torres, Grassroots Leadership.

"We want those police officers and APD to be accountable for what they are doing," said Pridgon.

You can find the report for discretionary arrests by clicking here.