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Cite and Release creates greater fairness in San Marcos

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Recently, there have been unfair attacks on members of the San Marcos City Council who supported the Cite and Release ordinance adopted in April 2020. Members of the Hill Country Freethinkers Association named below offer this column to answer those attacks.

The City of San Marcos Cite and Release ordinance provides several benefits for the common good: it saves the city and county money by reducing incarceration and outsourcing of prisoners (which cost taxpayers $4.3 million in 2018), promotes more equitable treatment for those unable to afford bail, follows state law that allows cite and release for specified offenses (see TCCP, art. 14.06), recognizes disparities in who is afforded cite and release based on race or ethnicity, applies to a limited number of nonviolent offenses, allows San Marcos police officers adequate discretion, which can be explained in each routine incident report.

Those cited and released are not exonerated. They must still appear in court to answer for the charge. What the ordinance does prevent is being taken to a crowded jail and required to post bond, which is difficult for low-income families to afford. Inability to post bond can lead to long periods of pre-trial incarceration. Such low-income individuals frequently miss work and consequently may lose their job, their home, and even custody of their children.

The San Marcos Police Officers Association (SMPOA), under the leadership of its president, Jesse Saavedra, attacked on Facebook, in flyers, and in emails the city council members who supported the ordinance, using misleading, false, and inflammatory rhetoric. SMPOA claimed without evidence that the ordinance would lead to an increase in crime and would limit officer discretion in ways harmful to the public.

SMPOA falsely and sensationally claimed that the ordinance would allow garden gnomes to be stolen with impunity and that "peeping toms" (actually those suspected of the crime of "voyeurism") would be free to violate the privacy of the daughters of city council members, who would, then, be unprotected from such conduct.

Saavedra also threatened to have the SMPOA recommend to its members that they issue citations only, rather than arrest suspects, in all cases, no matter how serious the offense. He also inaccurately claimed that police officers would be subject to civil liability, though they are protected both by the ordinance and by the city for liability claims.

The SMPOA (and CLEAT, a statewide police union) claimed that "9 Marijuana Related Murders" occurred somewhere, a claim unrelated to cite and release and a bogus argument.

It is undisputed that minorities in San Marcos have been treated poorly by city police under the Texas cite and release authority. In 2018, according to a Texas Monthly report, 72 black people were arrested by San Marcos officers for offenses for which they could have been cited and released. Not even one of them was given the benefit of Cite and Release. Of the 330 cases involving offenses that could have been handled in San Marcos under the state's Cite and Release law, only 20 people were cited and released, all of whom were identified as "white," though some were "white Hispanics." The other 310 individuals (93.9%) went to the crowded Hays County Jail. These data show the need for a local ordinance to achieve fairness.

Now, once again, the SMPOA is attacking members of the city council who are running for re-election and who supported the Cite and Release ordinance, using many of the same bogus arguments that were used in the spring debate on the ordinance.

The integrity of all members of SMPOA is called into question when scurrilous aspersions and false accusations are used to attack candidates in their name. Eric Martinez, a leader of Mano Amiga, a local community group that pushed for the ordinance, said, "Non-officers telling officers how to do their job, is basically (what officers object) to."

As Martinez suggests, what the SMPOA police officers seem not to understand is that the people they serve have, through their elected officials, the right and duty to decide how that service will be rendered. And the rendering of those services has been called into question by what we know about arrests in San Marcos.

The Cite and Release ordinance is needed to help overcome the systemic racism that exists in the San Marcos Police Department, just as it has existed historically in all white-created institutions. The four City Council members – Maxfield Baker, Melissa Derrick, Jocabed "Joca" Marquez, and Mark Rockeymoore–who supported Cite and Release should be commended by all people of good will.

This column is a collaboration by the following HCFA members: Jim Berry, Karen Brown, Karl Brown, Jerry Farr, Sheila Fling, Gilbert Fulmer, Harvey Ginsburg, June Chase Hankins, Susan Kirby, Jeannie Lewis, Shirley Ogletree, Carolyn A.Parker, Judy Telford, Samantha Tuzo and Sarah Wren.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666