Tom Hanson/AP

Austin Cops Issue Tickets for Marijuana Possession

October 20, 2008 12:53 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Police in Austin, Texas are allowed to determine whether individuals perpetrating minor crimes should be arrested and booked, or simply ticketed for their offense.

“Cite and Release”: Soft on Crime?

Police in Austin, Texas, will soon implement a “cite and release” policy when arresting individuals guilty of minor crimes, including marijuana possession, driving with a suspended license, or theft and damage costing less than $500.

By the end of the year, police chief Art Acevedo aims to grant officers flexibility in determining whether to take a perpetrator to jail, or simply give him or her a ticket.

Supporters of the initiative claim that it will keep county jails from overfilling and will allow officers to pursue more serious crimes. Critics feel that “cite and release” sends the wrong signal and is a step toward decriminalization of marijuana and petty crimes.

Ticketing initiatives were implemented in Texas in 2007, though not all counties adopted the measure. According to Greg Davis, Collin County's first assistant district attorney, the new law may “lead some people to believe that drug use is no more serious than double parking.” Davis asserted, “We don't want to send that message to potential drug users, particularly young people."

Ron Stretcher, Dallas County's director of criminal justice, is concerned that ticketing people makes judicial follow-up difficult. "These are not just tickets. These are crimes that need to be appropriately dealt with,” Stretcher said. “We want to make sure we get them back to court to stand trial. We want to make sure we don't miss folks who might have prior bad acts."

Roger Wade, sheriff spokesman in Travis County, where Austin is located, explained that his district has created an effective system for follow-through, which entails a direct filing system. “When someone is arrested, the case is automatically assigned to a prosecutor and paperwork is filed with the county or district clerk's office,” Mr. Wade explained.

According to Wade, "There are folks that think we are being soft on crime because we are just giving tickets. We are still hard on crime. We believe if we can save resources and have the same affect on crime, then we should take advantage of this."

Reference: Marijuana arrests on the rise

The U.S. Department of Justice offers charts and statistics detailing the surge in marijuana arrests over the last decade. According to reports, “In 1987 drug arrests were 7.4% of the total of all arrests reported to the FBI; by 2006, drug arrests had risen to 13.1% of all arrests.” Since 1996, marijuana arrests have increased more than those for other types of drugs.

Opinion & Analysis: The cost of booking for marijuana

Many organizations argue that the cost and effort of marijuana arrests are a burden on American taxpayers and police. According to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, “Last year alone the police made almost 830,000 arrests for marijuana law offenses in the United States. 89 percent of those arrests were for possession for personal use…The arrests cost taxpayers billions of dollars and consumed an estimated 4.5 million law enforcement hours (that’s the equivalent of taking 112,500 law enforcement officers off the streets).”

Related Topic: Marijuana arrests and controversy surge in New York City

During his time as mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani instituted a policy of aggressively arresting and jailing individuals in possession of marijuana. The effort, called “the marijuana arrest crusade” by some, continues under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and has resulted in an exponential increase in bookings related to marijuana use. Critics claim that non-whites are targeted.

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