SAN ANTONIO – In the last two years, Bexar County’s cite and release program has significantly reduced the number of people in the county jail who are accused of possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to new data was released Tuesday by District Attorney Joe Gonzales.
The report, released at the midway point of Gonzales’ 4-year term, shows that in 2018, the year before the policy was implemented, the DA’s office prosecuted 4,515 Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. In 2020, the DA prosecuted 16 cases. That’s a 99.6% decrease.
“As a result of this and related policies, the D.A.’s Office went from filing approximately 4,500 Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in 2018 to virtually none in 2020,” the report reads.
Under the county’s cite and release program launched in 2019, officers have the discretion to issue a citation instead of arresting someone who is accused of some non-violent misdemeanor offenses such as possession of marijuana, petty theft and driving with an invalid license. The program is a joint effort between SAPD, the Sheriff’s Office, other local law enforcement agencies and the district attorney.
The new report indicates that the program saved $2.6 million in taxpayer money in booking costs alone from July 2019 through Dec. 2020.
“It’s been a huge benefit to law enforcement because instead of having to spend the majority of their time during their shift, arresting that individual, booking him or her, for example, that officer can be freed up to handle the more serious cases,” Gonzales said.
There was a significant decrease in cases prosecuted in the past two years.
When announcing the policy in 2019, Gonzales said it would “help us prosecute the most serious crimes while keeping our jail free of people who ought not to be there. The jail is for people who are … truly violent, not people who are nonviolent, not people who are languishing, awaiting their day in court.”
The cite and release data was all a part of Gonzales’s midterm report, released by his office Tuesday, as an overview of his first two years of office. He said it’s the first report of its kind to come out of the DA’s office.
“We this is in the interest of transparency because what was important to me was to report to the citizens of Bexar County about the work that all 500 employees of the office are doing,” Gonzales said.
The report also touched on:
- New policy regarding criminal trespass cases of people experiencing homelessness
- Going paperless with the new BexarEIS program
- The office’s use of new online dashboards that provide the public access to real-time data about cases, charges and trends
Overall, Gonzales says the first two years have been successful and he’s really proud of the Cite and Release program and the creation of the new Civil Rights Division.
“We want the families to know that we’re going to be engaged with them and monitor the progress of their cases,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales goes on to say that the next two years he looks forward to working on curbing the rise in domestic violence cases.