Criminal Justice

Mayor Turner Signs Order Allowing Cite-And-Release For Some Low-Level Offenses

The program gives Houston police officers the authority to issue citations instead of arresting them on certain Class A and B misdemeanors.

A Houston police SUV parked outside Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston, on October 22, 2019.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday signed an executive order to implement a new cite-and-release program for the Houston Police Department, which would allow people accused of some low-level crimes to get off with a ticket rather than an arrest.

HPD Chief Art Acevedo stood alongside the mayor Monday to announce the new program, which will closely mirror a plan put forth by Harris County judges earlier in the year.

"We've looked at the impact of cite-and-release on other jurisdictions, and we've tried to craft one that takes into account the pluses and the minuses of what we have seen across, not only the state of Texas, but other jurisdictions,” Turner said. “These are low-level offenses."

The program gives Houston police officers the authority to issue citations instead of arresting them on certain Class A and B misdemeanors:

  • Possession of a controlled substance (less than 4 ounces)
  • Theft (stolen property in between $100 and $750)
  • Theft of Service (value in between $100 and $750)
  • Criminal Mischief (damage in between $100 and $750)
  • Graffiti (damage in between $100 and $2,500)
  • Contraband in a Correctional Facility
  • Driving While License Invalid

Turner said some Class C misdemeanors would also be revised to fit the program.

If cite-and-release were initiated last year, it would have kept about 3,000 people out of jail, according to HPD.

“This is not a matter of getting soft on crime, it’s a matter of getting smart on crime,” Acevedo said. “We will actually be monitoring this very clearly. We’ll be preparing monthly reports so the community can see how the program impacts this city day in and day out."

The city’s cite-and-release program goes into effect at 6 a.m. Tuesday. The program does not apply to individuals less than 17 years old, or if they are not a resident of Harris County.

Turner’s first police reform executive order was issued June 10, when the mayor announced he was banning HPD from using chokeholds to subdue people suspected of a crime — though the Houston Police Officers’ Union said the practice had been banned for decades.

That order also required de-escalation techniques, mandated verbal warnings before shooting, instituted a “duty to intervene” for officers who view inappropriate force from colleagues, and other reforms, many of which mirrored the “#8CantWait” campaign.

This reforms came in direct response to the death of Houston native, George Floyd, which sparked nationwide protests, including days of protests in downtown Houston.

That executive order was also signed the same day as the mayor’s announcement of a new 45-member police reform task force, charged with reviewing police practices and issuing policy recommendations.

Turner hinted that more reform announcements were coming later this week, after he recommendations from the task force.

Many activists have been critical of the mayor’s approach to criminal justice reform, specifically calling out Turner’s push to add more funding to HPD. In June, Houston City Council voted to increase the police budget by $20 million, to $964 million in Fiscal Year 2021.

The Right2Justice Coalition, a group of criminal justice reform advocates, said that Monday’s executive order did not go far enough, in part because the rule still gave officers the discretion to arrest people for Class A and B offenses.

Without a requirement to write a ticket, the group said, Black and Latino people were still more likely to be jailed under the new system.

"We need a really strong cite-and-release ordinance which will make citations or warning a default and not an option," read a statement from Naiyolis Palomo from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

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