SAN ANTONIO – The sections on abortion and marijuana decriminalization helped rally support for the so-called San Antonio Justice Charter, but now opponents are keying in on a different issue.
The police union and business community are focusing their criticism on the proposed expansion of cite-and-release, which is another portion of the sweeping, proposed charter amendment now on San Antonio’s May 6 ballot as Proposition A.
Mandating police officers issue citations for theft and graffiti instead of making arrests could lead to more crime, they argue. Meanwhile, Prop A’s supporters say cite-and-release is a “compassionate and holistic” way to keep a mistake off someone’s record and avoid crowding the criminal justice system.
San Antonio Police already have a cite-and-release program, which allows officers to write a citation for certain misdemeanor offenses instead of arresting someone. Prosecutors can then decide whether to allow the person into a diversion program or to file criminal charges as usual.
The eligible offenses include:
- Pot or synthetic pot possession under four ounces;
- Driving with an invalid license;
- Contraband in a correctional facility.
Criminal mischief, theft from a business, and theft of service -- all for amounts between $100 and $750 -- are also eligible.
Graffiti is not included in the program even though, under state law, it could be.
Beyond largely attempting to eliminate any enforcement of marijuana possession crimes, Prop A would expand the cite-and-release program to include graffiti.
More dramatically, though, it would make citations a requirement in most cases rather than an option.
“If this goes into play, there is no officer discretion. We lose that,” said SAPOA president Detective Danny Diaz.
From July through September 2022, the most recent data available, SAPD officers released people for citation-eligible offenses only 37% of the time.
However, SAPD policy requires an arrest if someone has an outstanding warrant or faces multiple charges, which happens about half the time. Excluding those instances, the release rate jumps to 74%.
The highest release rate, 58%, was for theft cases. SAPD officers released 181 people with a citation for that crime during the three-month period while arresting 132.
The union’s political action committee, Protect SA PAC, has aired television ads focusing on the cite-and-release expansion claiming “radical activists” want “to keep criminals free on the streets.”
“The way we’re looking at it is, ‘How are you going to make the business owner whole?’ If it’s a convenience store, and there’s items that are stolen -- there’s beer runs. How much beer can you steal to add up to $750?” Diaz told KSAT.
The Association of Convenience Store Retailers opposes Prop A, as is the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Though the chamber hasn’t yet published the reasoning for its opposition, a spokeswoman confirmed the cite-and-release expansion element was a large part of it.
ACSR President Mohammad Rana owns four convenience stores and thinks expanding the program will “encourage people to steal.”
“It’s a slap on the wrist. ‘Don’t do it.’ That’s it,” Rana said of cite-and-release.
As the head of Act 4 SA, Ananda Tomas led the petition campaign to get Prop A onto the ballot. She says there’s no evidence that cite-and-release has led to increased crime in San Antonio since it was implemented in 2019.
She says there would still be a process and accountability even with mandatory citations.
The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office also has a say in who can continue in a diversion program. So, even if an officer only issues someone a citation, they could face a criminal charge anyway.
“We are giving folks an opportunity to essentially learn their lesson and get that chance without having something on their record that’ll affect their housing, their jobs in the future, staying with their families,” Tomas said.
It’s not clear what would happen even if voters were to approve Prop A. The San Antonio City Attorney has said most of the ballot proposition is unenforceable, including the portion that would remove officers’ discretionary power to arrest people.
However, Diaz thinks the idea could still move forward if there were enough pressure from the city council.
“They want this in for a reason so that they can push it if they can acquire the right council people to get in office,” he said.
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