The chance is still alive that casual pot smokers caught by the Dallas Police Department would not get hauled straight to county jail. The Dallas City Council's Public Safety Committee, after hearing testimony from Chief David Brown, yesterday voted to move the "cite and release" policy proposal to the full council. A positive recommendation to adopt a pilot program failed 3-2, but no members of the committee expressed outright opposition.
Before getting too far into this, here's a brief breakdown of cite-and-release. In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a law that allows police officers to issue tickets for certain misdemeanor offenses rather than making arrests. Both A and B misdemeanor marijuana possession are on the list, as are crimes like misdemeanor theft and graffiti. (DPD's cite-and-release plan would only apply to marijuana possession charges.) A pot offender who is cited and released wouldn't get off any easier than he or she would otherwise — the penalties for pot possession remain up to a $2,000 fine and six months in jail.
Ideally, what cite-and-release does is cause less disruption for both law enforcement and the person being ticketed. People caught with less than 4 ounces of pot would wait with officers until a sergeant arrived at the scene. When the sergeant got there, the drugs would be weighed and bagged, and the pot possessor would be issued a ticket with his or her thumbprint on it. He or she would then have to show up to Dallas County Court on a Wednesday, as would the officer who issued the ticket, to have a judge deal with the case.
Brown offered lukewarm support for his department's proposed policy. He lamented the possibility that Dallas Police would lose leverage over criminal suspects if cite-and-release becomes a reality. Often, according to Brown, a marijuana charge is all the police can hold over a suspect's head when they suspect him or her of a bigger crime or need information. "Timothy McVeigh, when he was leaving the Murrow building [after the Oklahoma City bombing], was stopped for speeding," Brown said. (His point remains unclear, since the trooper stopped McVeigh for driving without a tag and then spotted a weapon on him.)
But Brown conceded that the dearth of beds at Dallas County Jail in relation to the amount of arrests made by DPD demands consideration. That's why he wants policy guidance from the city, he said. "It's just too damn practical, because we don't have enough beds [at Dallas County Jail] for violent offenders," he said.
He said that cite-and-release will save officers about 30 minutes each time a bust happens. Advocates for criminal justice reform suggest that dumping the sergeant weigh-in procedure would save even more time.
Philip Kingston, one of the members of the Public Safety Committee who's pushed DPD to begin cite-and-release, said he hopes cite-and-release will cause DPD officers to stop enforcing marijuana laws altogether. He said that officers can "exercise prosecutorial discretion" like the department does with jaywalking. "I just don't think we're serving public safety by making marijuana arrests," Kingston said. "This is [Brown's] department wasting resources."
There's no set date for the full council's briefing on cite-and-release, but it's not expected to languish too far past the new year. After the full council is briefed, they'll vote on whether to green-light the program.