As of last October, some pretty destructive crimes committed in Harris County will no longer land you in the back of a cop car.
Politically left leaning Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez doesn’t have to worry about having the authority to implement a cite and release program any more.
Back in 2007 Texas lawmakers gave peace officers the right to issue citations in lieu of arrest for certain class A or B misdemeanor crimes under certain circumstances.
“We have a growing jail population here,” said Gonzalez. “We house close to 9.000 every month and in the past, we’ve had to outsource because we’ve reached capacity and we don’t want to do that, we want to make sure there’s enough bed space for more violent criminals.”
A newly-implemented Cite & Release Program is allowing a growing numbers of residents charged with low-level offenses to be screened and give a citation.
“There are places where we need to be more firm on violent crime,” sheriff Gonzalez said. “We want to deploy more resources on that which as an agency we are already doing but we only have limited resources so we have to pick our battles.”
“The cite-and-release program has been implemented in other cities where it has helped to reduce jail population,” Turner said in a press conference Monday. He added that the move would “improve response times by getting officers back into service, more quickly.”
“Cite-and-release is a more humane method of dealing with low-level offenders because the program gives them an opportunity to make changes in their lives and face responsibility for their actions without having the stain of an arrest or jail time on their record,” Turner continued.
The City of Houston adopted this program implemented by Harris County in February.
“This is equivalent of being given a second chance on the spot as long as the offender meets the requirement,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Under the program, the following have been listed as offenses permitting a citation in substitution of an arrest:
- Possession of Substance in Penalty Group 2 — meaning possession less than 4 ounces
- Criminal Mischief — if damage is between $100 to $750
- Graffiti — if damage is between $100 to $2,500
- Theft — if stolen property is between $100 to $750
- Theft of Service — if value of service is between $100 to $750
- Contraband in a Correctional Facility (Class B)
- Driving While License Invalid
How It Works
- Officers must positively identify the suspect and check for warrants and criminal history.
- As with all charges, officers must consult with the District Attorney’s Office to discuss probable cause. The eligibility for the Cite & Release Program will also be discussed.
- Officers will present the defendant with the opportunity to participate in the Cite & Release Program, if the offense permits. If the suspect agrees to participate in the program, the suspect will sign the citation as a promise to appear in court. The officer will then issue the citation.
- Lastly, the suspect will be released from custody, an offense report will be completed, and charges will be filed.
According to the official documentation, not everyone will be eligible to participate in HPD’s Cite and Release program, but I think we all know the truth here. But just for chuckles, here are the listed disqualifications.
- Suspect is to be charged with Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana (handled through Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program)
- Suspect is not a resident of Harris County
- Suspect is younger than 17 years of age
- Suspect demands immediate appearance before a magistrate (program is voluntary)
- Suspect has outstanding warrants
- Safety (to self or others) is jeopardized by their release
- Suspect is in need of immediate medical attention
- Suspect is combative.
- Suspect refuses to sign Cite and Release Citation.
- If the officer cannot positively ID the suspect (by government identification, AFIS or other reasonable means).
- If non-qualifying Cite and Release charges are also filed.
- There is reason to believe the suspect would not appear in court. The basis for this determination shall be specifically stated in the offense report (e.g. suspect has a history of capias pro fines and/or bond forfeiture).
- If the suspect’s driver’s license is invalid and the suspect is the at-fault driver in the crash.
- Upon discussion with the ADA in Intake, if the charge is enhanced due to a prior conviction.
- Suspect is on parole for any crime.
The official story is that the Cite-and-release is the “city’s latest effort at police reform since the national reckoning on race and policing ignited by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.”
One thing that’s for sure is that this program DOES NOT WORK at actually reducing crime. Obviously, as expected, crime rates have skyrocketed in just over six months.
Rising Crime Rate
Last year, 400 people were murdered in Houston, a 42% increase from 2019 and the most since the early 1990s.
Other violent crime also went up, including aggravated assault and kidnappings. Some of that is part of an increase in domestic violence. And there’s no sign of a slowdown.
The sudden surge in crime has Houston-area leaders looking for answers. But in a pandemic year defined by tragedy, job loss, and other stressors, those answers aren’t easy to come by.
As of March 12, Houston Police Department preliminary reports indicate at least 82 murders so far in 2021. That’s compared to 60 at this point last year.
While violent crime was already going up in early 2020, before the pandemic, it got worse after the coronavirus spurred shutdowns, according to Phillip Lyons, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University.
“During the pandemic, with all the psycho-social stresses that are associated with that, I think it’s not a big surprise that more people lose it,” he said.
Lyons added that he was less sure about how much the related economic recession plays into the crime rate, as crime hasn’t always gone up in past recessions. But he didn’t discount it.
“I think it is safe to say that as stresses mount, including economic stresses, we would expect to see more increases in criminal behavior,” Lyons said..
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also relied on COVID-19 as and excuse for why crime rates had risen, not his left-wing crime relief bills, cutting of law enforcement/fire department funding, or promotion of left-wing extremist activity.
“If you know people who are committing these crimes – I don’t care whether they’re gang-related, whether or not they’re just crimes committed in general – if you know something, we desperately need the community to be an active player,” he said at a news conference last week, promptly denying any responsibility for the city of Houston’s mass deterioration since his taking office.
Hilariously and ironically, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters in January that rising crime was already a nationwide phenomenon.
“After many decades in the United States of historically low violent crime, including murders, we’re now into year two of a significant increase,” he said.
But on top of national trends, others are blaming Harris County judges for releasing people on low-cost bail, or without cash bail at all.
“COVID-19 is a convenient excuse for a rising crime rate,” said Andy Kahan, director of victim services at Crime Stoppers Houston.
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