Items 73 & 74 on June 14, 2018 Agenda

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Greg Casar
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Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2015 4:20 pm

Items 73 & 74 on June 14, 2018 Agenda

Post by Greg Casar » Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:15 pm


On the June 14th agenda, I have sponsored two separate items (73 & 74) related primarily to the police department. I’d like to thank my co-sponsors on Council for their support of these items. Below, I’ve attempted to summarize the intent of the items. While they are two separate items, many of the same community members are interested in both, and the two items support each other in reducing racial inequity in our criminal justice system. Therefore, I have requested that the Mayor take the two items up together for public testimony at Council in order to more efficiently run the meeting.

Item 73 has to do with the use of discretionary arrest for nonviolent misdemeanors. The main objectives of Item 73 are:

1) Directing the City Manager to take steps to end the use of discretionary arrest for nonviolent misdemeanors in cases where a citation/ticket is feasible and where there is no immediate public safety threat to anyone;
2) Asking the City Manager to provide quarterly reporting to review progress; and
3) Asking the City Manager to craft more recommendations to reduce racial disparities in arrests and to work with community members to do so.

The vast majority of people who commit nonviolent misdemeanors—and who are legally eligible to receive a citation—receive a citation and are not arrested. However, according to APD data, more than 1,000 people in 2017 were arrested for these kinds of citation-eligible offenses via discretionary arrest. The data also shows that stark racial disparities exist in who is being discretionarily arrested for these misdemeanors.

Additionally, many of these misdemeanors are not punishable by jail time for those who are found guilty! So we’re putting people in jail, regularly, for offenses that are not actually punishable by jail time after being convicted.

According to APD data, it would have been feasible—and would not have posed a public safety threat—to give citations to many of these Austinites rather than arresting them. By passing Item 73, we can save our officers’ time and City resources, reduce racial disparities in the use of arrest, spare families the difficulties of incarceration, and still protect public safety.

Item 73 does not address situations involving violence. The resolution intends to allow reasonable exceptions to enable law enforcement to make arrests for citation/ticket-eligible misdemeanors in some circumstances. Our intent is to ensure that residents who pose no public safety threat and are eligible for a citation or ticket are not arrested unnecessarily.

By far, the nonviolent misdemeanors primarily affected by this resolution are: possession of marijuana, driving while license invalid, petty theft, city ordinance violation, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Also of note: Travis County recently introduced a program that allows those cited for marijuana possession to attend an education course and avoid not only jail time, but a criminal record. However, this program is not available to those that are initially arrested. This hastens the need for this resolution—to ensure that as many people as possible are eligible to participate in this program and avoid the burden that a criminal history can bring simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

I’ve worked closely with the police department, the Chief, and community advocates to examine these discretionary arrest cases. From what I can tell from the data, there are many cases where a person has been unnecessarily arrested even when a citation was feasible. In some cases, the difference between being arrested versus being given a citation included the following – simply not having car insurance, being around other people who had warrants, or being a person who’s been in trouble in the past. I hope we can continue advocating for policies that treat people more equitably, regardless of their neighborhood, race, income or criminal history. I believe Item 73 leads us toward these goals.

Item 74 deals with City policies and resources regarding immigration enforcement. The main objectives of Item 74 are:

1) Supporting the Police Chief’s previous actions on policies related to immigration enforcement;
2) Directing the City to make sure residents know their rights when confronted with immigration enforcement situations, especially to ensure residents know they have a right to not answer questions about their status;
3) Directing the City to further ensure that city policing resources are prioritized to address city goals, particularly public safety issues and those with a criminal nexus; and
4) Establishing reporting requirements to ensure transparency and communication between the police department, elected officials, and the public on the topic of immigration enforcement.

Through the litigation against Senate Bill 4, the courts have, thus far, unfortunately indicated that police departments in Texas cannot completely ban their officers from inquiring about immigration status. Many of our residents, though, do not know that they have a Constitutional right to not answer such questions. I hope that our police department takes the steps necessary to ensure that any officer who asks a resident about their immigration status also tells the person about their right to not answer those questions.

Furthermore, given how tight our budgets are, and how limited we are by the State government on establishing new forms of revenue, I believe we need to ensure our policing resources are not unreasonably or unnecessarily dedicated to civil federal immigration enforcement. I believe protocols to protect these resources for only reasonable and/or necessary cases are important. We should be as transparent as is legal and possible about our priorities at the police department, especially as it relates to a topic of such heightened public concern.

I’d like to thank my cosponsors again for their support and their efforts to bring these items forward. I look forward to discussing these items with the full Council next week.

Gregorio "Greg" Casar
Council Member District 4