Eight months into cite-and-release and not much has changed for Dallas or its police department. The overwhelming majority of those being cited-and-released for possessing less than 4 ounces of marijuana — a policy approved by the City Council in 2017 — are black and Latino and in southern Dallas when they're cited. Monday, at least, the Dallas Police Department acknowledged the disparity before attempting to explain, in part, why it exists.
Between Dec. 1, the day cite-and-release went into effect, and June 30, the day DPD decided to stop counting for the purposes of its Monday presentation, 65 people received citations from DPD officers for marijuana possession. That means that they got to spend the night at home rather than in jail and, in most cases, keep their car rather than having it towed. Those given the citations still face the same potential penalties as those previously arrested for marijuana possession, but they are less likely to have their lives immediately thrown into chaos.
Of the 65 busted, 35 were black, 25 were Latino and five were white. Forty-six of the busts happened in one of DPD's three southern Dallas patrol areas, five were made by central patrol and 14 happened in North Dallas.
The locations of the citations, DPD Assistant Chief Lonzo Anderson said, are closely tied to DPD's Targeted Area Action Grids — areas of the city the police concentrates is forces.
"Most of the cite-and-release cases are either in TAAGs, where there is a high volume of crime occurring, or are adjacent to the TAAG area," Anderson said.
Council member Philip Kingston took DPD to task for the disparity between the ethnic makeup of those cited-and-released for marijuana possession and Dallas' ethnic makeup as a whole.
"It still appears to be the case that marijuana is legal in Dallas if you're white, but not if you're Latino or black," Kingston said. "That's, to me, just unacceptable."
As he has throughout the multiyear debate of cite-and-release in Dallas, Kingston advocated for de facto decriminalization, saying that any resources used to arrest or cite Dallas residents for pot possession are wasted. Interestingly, council member Jennifer Gates, like Kingston a potential candidate for mayor, told Anderson and Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall that she did not want the department to back off enforcement.
"I do not want you looking the other way," Gates said.
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Hall acknowledged that the ethnic imbalance among those cited needs to be fixed but said that DPD is, in most cases, responding to complaints from the community when citations are handed out, rather than proactively looking for someone to bust.
"We understand that there is some level of disparity as it relates to individuals who are cited-and-released, but we also operate and work for this community," Hall said. "A lot of those calls for service that result in cite-and-release come from the community who complain ... that they can't take their kids to the park, because people were smoking weed. They couldn't play outside because individuals were smoking marijuana and engaging in negative activity. Although there are some concerns here, as a police department we are doing everything we can to make sure that we aren't overlooking this."
According to the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, 33 of the 65 individuals cited-and-released have shown up for their court dates. Twenty-two failed to appear, seven have a future court date and three had their warrants dropped.
To make sure the program is as fair as possible, Anderson said, DPD randomly audits the body camera and in-car video of officers issuing marijuana citations. Additionally, DPD has recently begun requiring officers to take a photo or video of the person to whom they are issuing the citation and alerting suspects of their court dates via e-mail and phone rather than by mail.