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Local Government

Dallas City Council Approves Cite and Release Policy

Those caught possessing under four ounces of marijuana will skip the trip to jail.
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Councilmembers Philip Kingston and Tiffini Young secured the votes they needed to get a win for a cite and release program, freeing police officers to issue citations to those possessing under four ounces of marijuana rather than arresting them.

The policy essentially flips the arraignment process from the jail to the courthouse. If a cop catches someone with under four ounces of pot, a police supervisor will be called to field-test it, weigh it, and transport it into evidence. The suspect provides a thumb print and signs a summons promising to attend an arraignment hearing at the Dallas County Courthouse at some point in the next two weeks. Those who fail to show up will have a warrant issued for their arrest. The supervisor being called to the scene of the crime isn’t new—policy would require that to occur whether the city passed cite and release or not.

What comes after remains the same—the chance of a conviction for a Class A or Class B misdemeanor (with a sentence of up to a year in jail), a pockmark on your criminal record, likely years of probation. Which is to say, Dallas’ doesn’t even flirt with going as far as somewhere like Houston’s cite and release policy, which trades the confiscation of the drug and a four-hour education course for potential punishment.

Nevertheless, the council voted 10-5 in favor of the policy during Wednesday’s meeting, the exact opposite of the 10-5 vote against it a year prior.

In 2016, about 436 cases would’ve qualified under the council’s cite and release policy, according to the Dallas Police Department’s Assistant Chief Gary Tittle, who added that each incidence will save police officers an hour at most. Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates fell just one vote short from sending the resolution back to committee prior to vote, saying she didn’t have the requisite data to support the effectiveness of the program and lacked sufficient details about whether passing cite and release would spur marijuana users to be more casual about their public possession of the drug. It isn’t decriminalization, after all.

What followed was about an hour of political theater, of which I’m sure Barrett will regale you with later in the week. The important thing to know is that Young worked with District Attorney Faith Johnson in crafting the measure, which came to the council with the support of the DA’s office. The Dallas Police Association reiterated their opposition to it, while the Dallas Police Department declined to take a stand.

For the opposition, Councilwoman Sandy Greyson and Mayor Mike Rawlings remained against the measure, as her District 12 includes a small portion that exists in Denton and Collin counties. All four neighboring counties—Denton, Collin, Kaufman, and Rockwall—declined to participate. Rawlings and Greyson said they couldn’t support a resolution that treated Dallas residents differently based on the county in which they reside. Kingston, he of District 14, again scoffed at that argument.

“Anything I can do to make the citizens of District 12’s lives better I will do, whether it will affect the lives of my citizens or not,” he said. “The idea that one group does not have the ability to receive justice should mean that 1.3 million people are treated unjustly, I struggle finding the logic there.”

From there on, Councilman Rickey Callahan banged his drum of personal responsibility: “I just don’t get why people have to be high all the time. Why don’t they go to school, get a job.” He then was promptly drowned out by boos in the audience. But he continued after Rawlings admonished the crowd: “I want people to focus on being personally responsible by getting their education or working in a job as opposed to going around with a bag full of something,” he said. “We need to inculcate different values into our people instead of saying ‘I’m a victim, I’m a victim.’”

Young, who was responsible for the motion, was more poignant, speaking of how drug laws disproportionately affect the poor in minority communities.

“Let me just remind some of my colleagues and introduce others to a term known as restorative justice,” she said. “Some of these laws that are on the books are unjust to begin with. I want you to keep that in mind as we discuss this.”

The cite and release policy goes live in October. Last year, Kingston, Medrano, Griggs, Kleinman, and Young supported the measure. Councilmembers Mark Clayton, Carolyn King Arnold, Casey Thomas, Erik Wilson, and Monica Alonzo joined them this time around.

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