SAN MARCOS (KXAN) — A new police chief took his seat in the City of San Marcos on Monday.
Local groups Mano Amiga, MOVE Texas, Texas Rising and NAACP partnered up to let him know that one of their priorities for the community is the city’s cite and release ordinance.
“We wanted to let him know how important this ordinance is to us,” said Mano Amiga’s Jordan Buckley.
Representatives from each group showed up at the San Marcos Police Department to set the record straight about cite and release.
Passed in April, the ordinance orders police officers to issue more tickets and make fewer arrests for certain low-level offenses, including marijuana possession of less than four ounces.
One concern the San Marcos Police Officers Association has publicly expressed is the ordinance’s impact on officer discretion—or, when to arrest versus issue a ticket versus let someone go with a warning.
Activists say section two of the ordinance still gives officers discretion. That’s why they say they printed out an enlarged copy to deliver to the new chief.
“We wanted to blow it up and make it super crystal clear to our new chief that, yes, the ordinance absolutely allows officers to use their discretion to issue verbal and written warnings for these low-level petty offenses,” Buckley said.
SMPOA president Jesse Saavedra told KXAN they were not available for an interview at this time but forwarded an email he sent to city council members back in April expressing the group’s concerns:
Saavedra also sent council a point-by-point outline of SMPOA’s concerns about the cite and release ordinance.
Kevin Lawrence with the Texas Municipal Police Association says he hasn’t spoken with anyone in San Marcos but says he understands concerns about officer discretion.
“It says the officer still has the discretion to release, with a warning. But whether or not they have the discretion to go ahead and make a custodial arrest in lieu of cite and release is still kind of problematic,” Lawrence said.
In his points of concern to city council, Saavedra wrote, “In an effort to protect its members the SMPOA will advise its members to cite and release all offenders so the Officers are never accused of “Not being Justified” in their decision to arrest…. Resulting in all street diversions receiving citations and all who have benefited from Officer discretion and their street diversion to be entered into the Criminal Justice System.”
Buckley and other activists say it’s problematic for the SMPOA to encourage more tickets instead of using their discretion to let some people off with a warning.
“The fact that they would pledge to undermine the ordinance by criminalizing people that do not need to be criminalized is extremely upsetting to us, and we think its incumbent upon our new police chief to know about this issue,” Buckley said. “That’s the exact opposite of the intent of this policy, which is to keep people out of jail if they don’t need to be there.”
Lawrence thinks cite and release changes should be decided by the police chief and city manager through policy changes—not through an ordinance by city council members.
“The city council doing it unilaterally is them picking up luggage that doesn’t belong to them,” he says.
KXAN reached out to San Marcos’ new police chief, Stan Standridge, for comment. He wasn’t available today, but a spokesperson says he does plan to sit down with local advocacy groups in the near future.