SAN MARCOS, Texas - San Marcos is the first city in Texas to pass a law adopting cite-and-release policies for some low-level, nonviolent offenses.
Many other cities, like Austin, have done so but as a resolution.
“I support the use of cite-and-release as much as possible, but with officer discretion,” said San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson during Tuesday’s virtual city council meeting.
Justice reform activists in San Marcos, like grassroots organization Mano Amiga, have been fighting for a ramped-up cite-and-release policy for about a year. On Tuesday, San Marcos City Council finally made a decision, passing a cite-and-release ordinance 4-3.
“I feel good about it. I feel like it is something that will stand the test of time and it is something that is designed to create the best outcomes for the majority of our population,” said San Marcos City Councilman Mark Rockeymoore.
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“We're in the middle of a pandemic and people in prisons are dying too. It's important we just keep as many people out of jail as possible, especially for non-violent offenses and especially right now under the pandemic,” said Karen Muñoz, Mano Amiga board chair.
Starting May 31, those charged with low-level, nonviolent crimes in the city will be eligible to be ticketed and released instead of taken to jail. That includes; possession of less than four ounces of marijuana, driving with an invalid license, criminal mischief, graffiti, theft of property, theft of services and Class C misdemeanors excluding public intoxication, assault and family violence.
“I don't think that it's fair that anybody would spend any time in jail for the kind of offenses that the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures already says are citable,” Muñoz said.
“There were discrepancies and there were differences in the way that different populations were treated in San Marcos, as is the case all across the country, and so we decided that this might be a good avenue for us to go about making certain that cite-and-release was available for all members of our community, no matter what they might look like or who they might be,” said Rockeymoore.
The ordinance still allows officers to use documented discretion in several cases and those suspected of more serious crimes, or who do not work, live or attend school in Hays County, can still be arrested.
Mayor Jane Hughson was one of three who voted against the ordinance Tuesday.
“I've seen unintended consequences when an ordinance is first passed and I have fears that there could be some unintended consequences from this one. I would prefer that we give direction, perhaps a resolution, to ensure that we see how this works, to ensure that we don't cause new problems that do not exist now,” Hughson said during the meeting.
“When those happen, we will look at those and we will make changes as necessary,” Rockeymoore said in response.
Rockeymoore also noted that the San Marcos Police Department had been using cite-and-release more regularly in the past two years, but said, according to data gathered by the county and city, it “could’ve been used more.”