WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A statewide cite and release bill for criminals caught with small amounts of marijuana is now stalled in the state legislature, but that’s not stopping some law enforcement agencies from doing it anyway.
The Cedar Park Police Department confirmed Tuesday that within the next month, it will implement a cite and release program for some people caught with marijuana. A person with less than two ounces would have to report to a processing center rather than going straight to jail.
Cedar Park officers said this does not let suspects off the hook, but that taking a different approach to processing these types of situations will benefit the workload and transport times for police.
This effort comes after the Williamson County Attorney’s office started a similar program three years ago with the Round Rock Police Department. At that time the county attorney secured a $65,000 grant to try and reduce the county-run jail population.
Jarrod Smith, a criminal defense attorney with the Austin-based Smith & Vinson Law Firm, said figuring out how it exactly worked took some time.
“We’ve had a number of clients that have been actually confused about where they need to go to or what they need to do,” Smith explained.
“We had one client that came to us kind of after the fact, and they actually missed their initial court date,” he added. “Because all they had was a piece of paper, and they didn’t know what to do with it.”
Despite those snags, Smith supports the expansion of this kind of program throughout Williamson County.
“We shouldn’t be throwing people in jail for very low-level possession charges,” Smith said. “I think it frees up county resources for more violent crimes.”
Figures are not immediately available, though, to show if the cite and release program has had much of an effect on the number of inmates booked at the Williamson County Jail.
However, these types of low-level marijuana possession cases still make up about 20 percent of the county’s case load.
The numbers have held fairly steady during the past three years. According to the Williamson County Attorney’s office, there were 1,346 cases involving marijuana possession under two ounces in 2018. In 2017 there were 1,676 such cases, while there were 1,568 in 2016.
KXAN submitted a public records request Tuesday with the Round Rock Police Department to find out how many field release citations officers wrote for marijuana possession under two ounces during the past few years.
The Williamson County Attorney’s office indicated that it would like to keep expanding the cite and release program to additional law enforcement agencies in the county.
A spokesperson for the City of Leander, though, said the Leander Police Department is not implementing any such program right now. Police there are instead following how these efforts progress in other nearby communities before deciding if they should implement it, too.
The City of Austin has had a similar cite and release policy in place for a handful of crimes since 2009.
Last October, the Austin Police Department implemented a new version that narrowed the disqualifying factors — things that could trigger an arrest rather than release.
- if the officer believes people or property would be immediately in danger by releasing the subject
- if the subject demands to be taken before a magistrate or refuses to sign the citation
- or if an officer cannot identify the person in question.