San Marcos City Council is considering an ordinance that would formally support the police department’s cite-and-release policy for certain low-level offenses.

Cite-and-release, in which a law-enforcement officer issues a ticket for a court appearance instead of taking someone into custody, was established by the Texas Legislature in 2007 as an option for some misdemeanors.

“This ordinance is important for the city,” said City Council Member Mark Rockeymoore, who is also a member of City Council’s Criminal Justice Reform Committee. “I know what it’s like to have to go through the criminal justice system, and I don’t want other people to go through what’s potentially the worst day of their life if there’s another way.”

Though San Marcos Police Department officers already have the option to use cite-and-release, recent statistics released by Samantha Jones, Hays County criminal justice analyst, showed that in 2018, SMPD used cite-and-release in only 20 out of 332 eligible offenses.

“Cite-and-release is one where there are very big opinions in our community both ways,” interim police Chief Bob Klett sad. “Some people want, if you’re looking at marijuana, zero tolerance for that. And then other people think it shouldn’t be criminalized anyway.”

According to a draft ordinance distributed at the Nov. 7 meeting of the criminal justice reform committee, “the City Council supports the SMPD’s increased use of the cite and release process” for misdemeanors such as possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana, driving with an invalid license and graffiti, among others.

The draft, which acknowledges the SMPD’s discretion in the use of cite-and-release, also establishes exceptions to the guidelines under which it is used. Those exceptions include if the person does not have identification; does not live, work or go to school in Hays County; is suspected of higher crimes; or is suspected of assault or family violence, among others.

An earlier draft, also put together by Anita Gupta, a staff attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, was discussed by the full City Council at their Oct. 15 meeting.

Klett said the original draft did not reflect appropriate language, as it called for disciplinary actions against San Marcos police officers who did not cite and release offenders for the offenses listed in the ordinance.

“We came up with some different draft language and took away the word ‘shall,’” Klett said, referring to a change between the drafts of the ordinance that required the SMPD to use cite-and-release and the draft that stated the council’s support of its use.

In addition to the use of cite-and-release, the draft ordinance would require police officers to document information about offenders. Such information will include the type of offense, the age, the race and the ethnicity of those who received citations in comparison to those who were arrested and jailed for the same offense.

That data, according to the draft ordinance, must then be compiled in a report that “shall be provided to the City Council and made public on a quarterly basis.” The draft goes on to state that “[i]nformation regarding specific arrests shall be organized according to race and ethnicity in order to allow racial disparities to be easily analyzed.”

Rockeymoore said he believes the data collection will be important to show what is happening during the arrests and why it is happening.

Criminal justice reform has also been under discussion at the county level this year, with the commissioners forming the Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission in April, shortly before the City Council established its criminal justice reform committee in May.

Klett said that Hays County is getting close to implementing a law-enforcement policy known as cite-and-divert, which aims to keep low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system by offering alternatives.

“They’re being diverted from the criminal justice system if it’s appropriate,” Klett said. “They still have consequences.”

Rockeymoore supports the county’s pursuit of cite-and-divert but said he is concerned about the pace of adoption.

“[Hays County commissioners] need to remain committed to the process,” Rockeymoore said.

Although City Council members want to move forward with a measure supporting the use of cite-and-release, Rockeymoore said, there were many modifications to the original draft and more to come before finalizing it.

“It’s an intense process because we don’t want to create anything that is out of place,” he said.

Rockeymoore said council hopes to have something in place by the end of November.