David Brown is Dallas’ police chief and, as such,admits he has mixed feelings when the question is whether his officers should write citations instead of booking into jail those arrested for small amounts of marijuana. You can see how this might be.
The cop in Brown sees minor busts as one more tool to develop informants or just information that might lead to bigger busts. Every arrest is potential leverage over a suspect, even if it’s just an ounce or two of weed.
The manager in Brown sees it differently. Every minor pot arrest means a Dallas police officer must drive the suspect downtown for booking at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center. If everything goes well … and, well, it so seldom does. This means the officer is stuck waiting around, sometimes for hours.
And not only is this precious shift time dribbling away, it’s time your average, taxpaying Dallas resident would prefer to have that officer back on the street making more arrests.
Also contributing to Brown’s mental conflict: He’s trying to convince the City Council that response times would improve if he had more officers on the street. Right now, he says he’s doing loaves-and-fishes with about 3,500 sworn officers — or about 200 fewer than when he took over in 2010.
It’s common sense that more officers would cut residents’ wait times from their 911 calls, but it’s common sense that comes with a price tag. That’s the council’s call, not Brown’s. So freeing more officers from waiting around at the jail could help accomplish some of that goal more immediately.
Instead of booking suspects, a 2007 state law allows written citations in lieu of jail bookings for some Class A and B misdemeanor offenses, including marijuana possession of less than 4 ounces.
Under “cite and summons,” suspects must appear before a magistrate on a specific date, as with a traffic ticket. Nothing else changes, including the range of punishment for the offense. In Texas, marijuana possession remains against the law.
Still, despite the obvious benefits, few departments have taken advantage. The Travis County Sheriff’s Department was an early adopter, as were the Austin Police Department and Hays County sheriff.