SAN ANTONIO – A Cite and Release program in Bexar County has already avoided hundreds of arrests in its first three months.
Between July and September, San Antonio police cited people instead of taking them into custody 534 times. That's roughly 34% of the 1,509 arrests made by the San Antonio Police Department for eligible offenses. The statistics presented to the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday as the first quarterly update of the program showed the vast majority of citations were given for marijuana possession and theft.
Under Cite and Release, a suspect can be cited rather than arrested for certain Class A or B misdemeanors, such as marijuana or synthetic marijuana possession, minor thefts from businesses, minor vandalism and driving with an invalid license.
Afterward, the Bexar County District Attorney's Office can review the person's case and allow them to pursue a "diversion track" that would keep the offense off the person's record, or the DA's Office can still file charges in court.
"The program is intended to keep people out of the judicial system who made a one-time mistake," McManus told KSAT after presenting the first round of statistics to the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
The chief said the program has been "working great to this point."
The citations are meant, in part, to cut down on the time officers need to spend processing low-level arrests. SAPD statistics showed that the total time officers spent on these calls was reduced by an estimated 935.5 hours due to issuing citations instead of taking suspects into custody.
The SAPD and the Bexar County Sheriff's Office are the two main agencies participating in the program. In all, there have been more than 600 citations through the program, said Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales.
Gonzales said his office has been declining to pursue any marijuana cases involving amounts under 1 ounce. He said he did not know how many of the cases through the Cite and Release program fell into that category.
McManus said there are still refinements that need to be made to the program, such as ensuring officers can see who has been cited for an offense before. If someone is getting stopped for the same offense multiple times, they're more likely to get arrested than cited again, he said.
So far, two people have been cited twice, McManus said.
In 78% of cases where San Antonio police officers made a custodial arrest rather than citing someone, an arrest was likely required by SAPD policy, since the suspect was either facing multiple charges or had a warrant for their arrest.
Committee member and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry told McManus he had a problem with thefts being included as an offense eligible for citation.
"You've got a lot of taxpayers in the city that expect to be protected. And criminals stealing from their residence or place of business or whatever -- the expectation is that they be prosecuted," Perry said.
The SAPD policy specifically includes only thefts from businesses between $100 and $750 as part of the Cite and Release program.