Pilot program to allow low-level, nonviolent offenders to avoid jail

Cite and Release program allows option of community service, attend class

By Josh Skurnik - Reporter , Ben Spicer - Web Producer

SAN ANTONIO - Some people accused of petty crimes in Bexar County may avoid jail under a new pilot program announced Wednesday by District Attorney Nico LaHood.

The cite and release program will allow police officers who stop people for certain misdemeanor crimes the option of arresting them or issuing them a citation with a summons date, LaHood said.

At the summons, the accused has the option to do community service or attend a class, LaHood said.

The accused will also avoid having a mugshot taken, and the crime won't appear on their record.

The following misdemeanors qualify for the program:

  • Class A and B possession of marijuana (up to 4 ounces)
  • Class B criminal mischief
  • Class B theft
  • Class B theft of service
  • Class B driving while license invalid

LaHood said the program has been in the works for two years, and he got input from Police Chief William McManus. LaHood said he looked at similar programs in Harris and Travis counties before making a decision.

"When utilized, this program will allow officers to stay on our streets and continue to protect our community, help prevent the overburdening of our criminal justice system and, at the same time, allow the citizen accused an opportunity to learn from a poor choice without having the stigma of an arrest follow them for the rest of their life," LaHood said.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the program will prevent jail overcrowding.

"(The) Bexar County Jail is for people that as a society we're afraid of," he said. "What the system has been allowed to become is we're locking people up who we're simply mad at. And we're talking about the 18-19-year-old college kid (who) made a mistake that, quite honestly, thousands and thousands of kids every day make that same mistake."

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said Wednesday that he's had discussions with city council members, the City Manager's office and the DA regarding cite and release. 

"This is an opportunity to be more efficient with officer's time," Chief McManus said. "The SAPD will work with the DA's office to iron out the details."

A start date has yet to be decided, and the program will be evaluated after six months, LaHood said.

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