In dribs and drabs over the first part of the year, numbers from Dallas' cite-and-release pilot program have come out, painting a portrait of marijuana enforcement in the city. Over the first five months that the program, which allows those busted with pot to receive a citation to come to court, rather than heading immediately to jail, the overwhelming majority of those cited have been black or Hispanic.
Thanks to new stats obtained by the Observer last week, we now have a better idea about how the program is functioning and what changes its backers might push to make it more equitable.
According to the latest batch of numbers, which cover the period between Dec. 1, the date on which Dallas County finally allowed the start of cite-and-release, and May 7, Dallas cops have issued 56 cite-and-release summonses. Only people busted for pot possession and pot possession alone are eligible for cite-and-release. Combine possession with any other offense, and all the old rules apply.
Of those, 51 were written to people who aren't white. Twenty-seven of the citations went to black Dallas residents, 24 to Hispanics.
A large plurality of those getting cited-and-released — about 45 percent — make contact with police after being pulled over for a traffic stop. One of those people, a 19-year-old with no criminal background beyond his possession citation, chatted with the Observer via Twitter direct message earlier this year on the condition that we wouldn't use his name.
"They pulled us over because my friends [sic] tags were out," he says. "It was one blunt — probably not even a gram. I appreciate them showing mercy but [giving us] a lot of shit was unnecessary."
Officers told him that he had to show up to court but didn't tell him much else about the process, he says.
"I’m glad I didn’t go to jail, [but] best believe that Texas needs to legalize weed seriously," he says. "It’s not a big deal. Let people smoke weed. It’s not harmful at all."
The next biggest reason for first contact is a call for service, the genesis of 29 percent of cite-and-release busts. Only 10 of the citations written so far have come after a police officer initiated contact on his or her own, according to the department, while five people have received a citation after someone complained via DPD's drug complaint system.
Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston supported cite-and-release as what he viewed as a first step toward de facto decriminalization in the city. He'd hoped that Dallas cops would simply stop enforcing laws against low-level marijuana enforcement. After nearly six months of cite-and-release, Kingston now says that the city may have to take further action.
If cite-and-release numbers don't change, Kingston says, he will consider pushing the council to pass a resolution telling DPD to make enforcing laws against marijuana possession a low priority.
"If I have to bring it to council, I will," he says. "In an absolute way, this is not a big problem because it's a low number of arrests."
Kingston also hopes that John Creuzot, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform and the current Democratic nominee for Dallas County district attorney, will simply stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.
"He's going to get rid of all these prosecutions and probably expunge people's records," Kingston says. "That's going to happen in January. It's not like this is a long period of time, but, in some ways, the fact that it's such a low number of arrests and the fact that we know that, in less than a year, these crimes could no longer be prosecuted makes me even madder."
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Monday evening, Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall's office responded to questions from the Observer about whether DPD might change the way it enforces cite-and-release by saying that it believes the policy is being enforced fairly.
"The Dallas Police Department is committed to fair and equitable treatment of the entire community. We are reviewing citation and arrest data regularly to control for any disparities that may arise. We have analyzed the data and found no improprieties," the statement from Hall's office reads.
"Our enforcement is directed towards highly concentrated areas of crime with no respect of race. Our community raises concerns daily of marijuana use and sales, as quality of life concerns. The community is working alongside of us in this process. 28% of the Cite and Release citations were a result of a call for service by residents and 9% were the result of drug complaints.
We will continue to assess this matter."