After a bumpy road followed by a lively debate among elected officials, the city of San Marcos will be the first in Texas to adopt a cite-and-release policy in the form of a law for certain low-level offenses.

San Marcos City Council members voted 4-3 on April 21 to approve the cite-and-release ordinance that is slated to take effect May 31.

“There’s a lot of concern in this community that we weren’t listening to enough people; and by my count, we had about 51 opposition emails and about 172 emails in support of this ordinance, not a resolution, so I am proud to vote 'yes' for this ordinance,” Council Member Maxfield Baker said before casting his vote in favor of the ordinance.

Cite-and-release, in which a law enforcement officer issues a ticket for a court appearance instead of taking someone into custody, has been a policy under discussion since it was first proposed by Mano Amiga—a grassroots nonprofit in Hays County that has been pushing for formal support of the policy since 2019.

"Today's triumph marks the first step down a path that leads to greater liberation and justice for the people of Hays County via prudent modernization of our criminal legal system,” said Eric Martinez, the policy director for Mano Amiga, in an April 22 statement.

After months of discussions and multiple drafts of the policy, the adopted ordinance “supports the [San Marcos Police Department’s] increased use of the cite and release process, rather than arrest, in appropriate circumstances,” including misdemeanors such as possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana, driving with an invalid license and graffiti, among others, but excluding Class C misdemeanors for public intoxication, assault or family violence.

In response to allegations that cite-and-release would allow individuals to go unpunished for committing offenses listed in the ordinance, Council Member Mark Rockeymoore said, “This is more fear mongering; people are not going to get away with stealing something over and over again. That’s not going to happen; people are going to get arrested if they steal twice or three times. It’s up to the officer’s discretion; the officer continues to have discretion.”

“I’m convinced there’s going to be plenty of unintended consequences," Mayor Jane Hughson said before ending the lengthy discussion about the ordinance and voting against the policy.

Though the ordinance directs San Marcos police to give citations for certain offenses, it still allows for the officer's discretion.

“The City Council acknowledges that our Peace Officers are allowed to exercise their discretion to issue a citation in lieu of arresting individuals for certain offenses,” the ordinance reads.

The adopted law 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.

If an arrest is made for any citable offense listed in the ordinance, officers will be required to record the specific reasons for making the arrest in the incident report.

In efforts to maintain transparency between police and the community, quarterly reports will be available to the public on the use of cite-and-release. The reports will have records of all those who were cited and arrested, including information about the alleged offense, age, race, ethnicity, location of the incident, the reason for the arrest and other details.

In addition, a work group composed of county and city officials along with stakeholders and community members will be created and meet regularly to discuss the development of policies, procedures and practices related to the ordinance. The meetings will be open for public participation.

City Council will receive an update of the implementation of the ordinance three months after its effective date May 31.