"There's just no real good way to say what's COVID-19 and what's ordinance," Klett said in a response to Place 4 Council Member Mark Rockeymoore when asked about the impact of the pandemic on the number of cite-and-release incidents. "I'm sure that the ordinance has had some effect on some of that."
The cite and release ordinance, which went into effect May 31, mandates that San Marcos Police Department officers should release suspects with a ticket and court summons for certain low-level crimes, as opposed to arresting them, whenever possible.
Officers can still arrest offenders at their discretion but are required to record the specific reason for the arrest in the incident report. The city has also launched a public dashboard on its website that tracks cite and release incidents.
Eligible cite-and-release offenses include:
- theft of service with a value less than $375;
- theft of property with a value less than $375;
- criminal mischief with damage valued at less than $375;
- graffiti with damage valued at less than $375;
- possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana;
- all Class C Misdemeanors, excluding public intoxication, assault and family violence; and
- driving with an invalid license.
Klett told the council that of the 12 people involved in incidents between May 31 and June 30 that were applicable under the ordinance, five were arrested, and the other seven received citations before being released.
Of the 12 incidences in June, four were for criminal mischief, three were for driving with an invalid license and two were for theft. There were single occurrences of incidents of fighting, possession of marijuana and DUI.
There were 91 other arrests during the same time period that were not eligible for cite and release.
Cite-and-release incidents have steadily increased year-over-year since 2017, and there were 51 in 2020 through Sept. 8, according to information released by the San Marcos Police Department.
Despite the pandemic, the 51 cite-and-release incidents so far this year represent the largest increase in year-over-year incidences since 2017, with a 70% increase from 2019 when there were 30 occurrences.
Police calls and traffic stops decline due to pandemic
Law-enforcement activity was down nearly across the board due to pandemic, but robberies and burglaries were up, according to Klett.
"As with many aspects of the city operations, COVID-19 has also had an effect on the number of calls for service, traffic stops and index offenses from previous years," said Bert Lumbereras, San Marcos city manager, during the council meeting.
For Jan. 1 through Aug. 10, year-over-year calls for service declined from 48,670 in 2019 to 40,566 in 2020—a 16.65% reduction.
Traffic stops were heavily affected, with a drop from 10,113 to 4,849 in the same time period—a 52.05% slump.
Index offenses—down 23% overall—include crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Street diversions were an unofficial policy used in the past where officers, at their own discretion, could choose to release marijuana offenders at the time of arrest with a ticket or verbal warning instead.
The San Marcos Police Department reported 153 street diversions during the first quarter of 2020 between Jan. 1 and March 31, but only 13 during the second quarter between April 1 and June 30. So far, 17 street diversions have occurred during the third quarter, which concludes at the end of September.
"2020, when you look at the numbers, is just much different than years previous," Klett explained to City Council.