Law enforcement agencies in Fort Worth and Tarrant County will begin issuing tickets to those found with small amounts of marijuana, instead of arresting them and taking them into custody.
In a joint release from The Tarrant County Law Enforcement Executives Association and the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney's Office, the agencies highlighted their new policy in which people detained for certain low-level, misdemeanor crimes may now be issued a citation.
Tarrant County law enforcement agencies coming on board with this progressive new policy include Azle, Arlington, Fort Worth, Haltom City, Dalworthington Gardens, Everman, and Sansom Park.
The change is part of a law called Cite and Release that was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2007. Under that law, a defendant charged with some Class A and B misdemeanor offenses is eligible for a citation, rather than an immediate arrest.
It follows a policy change by the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney made in 2020 in which people charged with possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can get that charge dismissed.
Other Texas counties such as Harris, Dallas, Bexar and Travis already have begun to use Cite and Release.
"The search for improvement in the criminal justice system is a continual process," says Azle Police Chief Rick Pippins. "Police, prosecutors, and courts always seek to improve the fairness, accuracy and speed of the system which benefits all stakeholders, including the accused."
The release says that Tarrant County Law Enforcement Executives, Tarrant County magistrates, and the Criminal District Attorney's Office worked together in recent months to determine how it will be implemented.
Officers will issue a citation to appear before Tarrant County magistrates on a certain date, instead of making an immediate arrest. When the offender appears, the magistrate notifies the law enforcement agency that wrote the citation. The law enforcement agency then files the case with the DA’s Office for prosecution.
"Offenders who receive a citation will still have their cases filed with the DA’s office," says Chief Cody Phillips, City of Haltom City Police Department and president of the Tarrant County Law Enforcement Executives Association. "Tarrant County has 41 municipal law enforcement agencies. Not every agency may choose to use Cite and Release."
Dalworthington Gardens Police Chief Greg Petty says that Cite and Release gives the officer another tool to address situations where a crime has been committed but making an arrest is not "in the best interest of justice."
"A custodial arrest is not always the best course of action when trying to balance the best way to handle criminal behavior," Petty says.
Eligible charges include:
- possession of marijuana less than two ounces
- possession of marijuana between two and four ounces
- possession of controlled substance in penalty group 2A less than two ounces
- possession of controlled substance in penalty group 2A between two and four ounces
- criminal mischief if the amount of loss is between $100 and $750
- graffiti if the amount of loss is between $100 and $2,500
- theft if the value stolen is between $100 and $750.
"We are not dismissing theft or drug cases," says Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson. "This is just another way to prosecute these cases efficiently."
To be eligible for a citation instead of an immediate arrest, the offender must:
- be an adult who lives in Tarrant County and committed the offense in Tarrant County.
- have ID sufficient to prove his or her identity.
- not have an outstanding warrant for a Class B or higher offense.
"Cite and Release may provide an avenue for officers to focus on more critical calls for service," says Sansom Park Police Chief Carolyn Gilmore.
"The benefits of Cite and Release are that it can save officers time, jail costs and taxpayer dollars, while using the existing magistrate and prosecution systems. It is a win-win for all involved," says Everman Police Chief Craig Spencer.
Fort Worth Assistant Police Chief Joseph Sparrow says, "We believe it will be a great opportunity to lessen the burdens on both the citizen and officer."
Arlington is also on board, and it won't necessarily be a free ride for everyone.
"We will support this program by giving officers an additional option to cite and release a person who meets the criteria," says Arlington Police Chief Alexander Jones. "Officers will also still have discretion on whether to arrest the person and bring them to jail or field release them through this new program for certain qualifying misdemeanors."
UPDATE 6-30-2021: The Fort Worth Police Department sent out a release to address questions and general freaking-out as follows:
The safety and well-being of the citizens of Fort Worth is of the utmost importance to the Fort Worth Police Department. We are serious about taking violent offenders off the streets and keeping our communities safe. This message is to address questions we’ve received about Tarrant County’s new Cite and Release program.
The Fort Worth Police Department is participating in Tarrant County’s new Cite and Release program, which provides officers with the option of issuing a citation for certain Class A and Class B offenses in lieu of making a custodial arrest. The Cite and Release program in no way takes away an officer’s ability to arrest an offender. The decision to make a custodial arrest or utilize the Cite and Release program remains at the discretion of the investigating officer. Additionally, it does not prevent prosecution of offenses, it only provides another method through which a crime can be prosecuted.
The Cite and Release program only applies under certain criteria that includes specific non-violent, low-level offenses. This program does not apply to violent offenses.
What the Cite and Release program does is lessen the burdens on our officers by reducing the time spent on minor/non-violent offenses. This allows them to get back into service more quickly, better serve our citizens, and spend more time addressing violent crime.