Gonzales: Cite-and-release is serving the community – San Antonio Express-News

In a recent guest column, District 10 City Councilman Clayton Perry misses the mark about Bexar County’s cite-and-release program (“Crime is up; rethink cite-and-release,” Opinion, Saturday).

He correctly points out that a rise in criminal activity across the country causes many in our nation to feel uneasy about going to the corner gas station or for a neighborhood walk. Likewise, he correctly points out that analyzing the causes of crime are complex and there is no one simple answer.

However, he then suggests the increase in crime in San Antonio is caused by the absence of prosecution for certain offenses, as well as the setting of low bonds, but he offers no evidence to support his position. One need only refer to the headline of the guest column to deduce he is referring to offenses eligible for cite-and-release.

This program has functioned well because of the cooperation of law enforcement. The officer who encounters a resident on the street has the sole discretion to arrest or issue a citation. A citation allows the officer to stay on the street and focus on serious crimes. It is a tool of effective policing as well as one of pretrial diversion.

On Jan. 31, I released my official cite-and-release diversion policy. In it, I list all the offenses enumerated by statute created by the Texas Legislature in 2007 that are eligible for the program. I did not “expand” the list of crimes that qualify. Instead, I merely explained that if a law enforcement agency, at its discretion, chooses to refer any of those offenses to our program for consideration, we would be willing to review such referrals for entry into the program.

While misdemeanor theft and graffiti are listed as eligible offenses by the Legislature, the majority of offenses (65 percent) referred to the district attorney’s office’s cite-and-release program have been for misdemeanor amounts of marijuana. From the inception of the program on July 1, 2019, to July 25, 2022, 6,235 citations have been received from law enforcement. Officers with the San Antonio Police Department have issued 89 percent, or 5,541 citations, of which only three citations by law enforcement have been for graffiti.

Cite-and-release has been a success in Bexar County. The San Antonio Police Department has been a large partner in this effort, and it is because of its aggressive use of this program that this initiative has been successful. Officers with SAPD are to be commended for thinking outside the box. To date, the cite-and-release program has saved $4.7 million in booking costs.

Moreover, the success of this program can also be measured in recidivism, or the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. The recidivism rate for participants who have successfully completed the program is only 7.9 percent compared with an average recidivism rate of 38 percent for those arrested and booked.

Finally, the benefits of cite-and-release to the individual and the community are many. The individual avoids the collateral consequences of bond fees, court costs and potential loss of employment or other benefits, and the community keeps low-level nonviolent offenders as productive members of society while saving millions of taxpayer dollars.

The purpose of the cite-and-release program is to improve public safety through better use of police resources and reduction of recidivism. By these measures, this program has been a huge success. This is why Mayor Ron Nirenberg and a majority of the San Antonio City Council are in support of this initiative.

Joe D. Gonzales is the Bexar County district attorney.

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