Instead of campaigning against an opponent this election season, Gregg County Commissioner Darryl Primo has been campaigning for a program instituted in more metropolitan areas called “Cite and Release.”
The purpose of the program is to give officers an option other than to arrest a person who has committed a misdemeanor.
When put into practice the program can save taxpayers’ money and help manage the intake at the Gregg County Jail, Primo said.
“It should free up time for officers to investigate crimes against people and property as opposed to being tied up processing a misdemeanor charge,” he said, noting it should help “unclog the court system,” also.
Cite and release was one of multiple ideas Primo is touting -- ideas he believes would save taxpayers money.
Some of the other ideas Primo discussed at various town hall events included a drive-thru window where people could more easily pay bills, an electronic jury duty call notification system that would send a text message to people if their jury duty date is canceled, revenue controls on local government and disclosure of elected officials’ salaries.
Although the cite and release program would apply to all misdemeanor charges, the one that gets the most traction, he said, is possession of less than four ounces of marijuana.
“There’s not a lot of evidence to support the way we’re doing it has improved public safety one bit,” Primo said. “Based upon the results of the other Texas counties that have implemented some version of this, I thought it was something that we should look into here in Gregg County.”
With multiple municipal lines throughout Gregg County, he said, it would have to be a county-wide program in order to work, so law enforcement agencies in Longview and in Kilgore would have the same options.
District Attorney Carl Dorrough seees the program as one to be implemented in municipalities, not as a county-wide program.
“That’s really something for each individual agency to determine based upon their own policies,” Dorrough said, whether it is the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office, Kilgore Police Department or Department of Public Safety. “This office doesn’t make policy for those law enforcement agencies. Those are decisions made within each department.”
Each case, whether an arrest was made or not, would be submitted to the district attorney’s office as if an officer made an arrest.
“It wouldn’t affect what we do,” he said.
Even with the cite and release program, the penalty of a fine would remain in place, Primo said. The cite and release option would be similar to the defensive driving option people have after receiving a moving vehicle violation.
The program would also not affect someone who has been charged already or who has an outstanding warrant.
Not everyone would qualify for the option, he continued, identifying people who have a restraining order or a criminal record would not have the cite and release option.
“If a person is pulled over for a minor amount of marijuana – a misdemeanor amount – and they don’t trigger any other things, having a previous charge, outstanding warrant or restraining order, then they should automatically be given this option,” Primo said.
It is only an option, though, and people who quality for the program might still have the option to be arrested and go to jail.
The program would avoid people being arrested and having their car towed.
As an example, Primo said, “There’s often people, such as a Kilgore College student, who may have a minor amount of marijuana. We don’t believe jail is the appropriate place for that person to be.”
In Harris County anyone who takes the cite and release option must pay a fine and complete a four-hour course regarding health and civics.
“If you do that and if you qualify, then you satisfactorily complete the course and you go on your way,” Primo said, emphasizing that it does not leave a permanent charge on the person’s record in situations where the punishment outweighs the crime. “That person should have the option to earn a second chance.”
One of the hurdles to implementing the program is changing established policies and the status quo.
“We’re not recreating the wheel here,” he said. “We’re duplicating what has already been seen to be effective.”
Using 2017 data from Longview Police Department, Primo said, 83 percent of LPD’s stops were misdemeanors.
If 30 percent of those stops were done differently with the person being cited instead of going to jail, it would help from a managerial standpoint for officers to not have to process the person, take them to jail and have the car towed.
Kilgore Police Chief Todd Hunter does not expect the program to affect the paperwork required by KPD officers.
“I don’t have an issue with that… I think it gives law enforcement another option but police agencies themselves can’t embark on that without the participation of the district attorney’s office and the county sheriff’s office,” he said.
The ticket itself, even with the associated fine, is not as much of a deterrent as a person being placed in handcuffs and taken to jail.
“We have a hard enough time with people not appearing after receiving a ticket and have to file a warrant on that,” Hunter said. “We can circumvent that by placing them in the system then.”
There are other logistics that would need to be worked through before a plan such as cite and release could be implemented.
Primo added he is not advocating for anyone to break the law, but that jail should not necessarily be the punishment for all misdemeanors.
The citation people sign is a promise to appear in court, and if they do not follow through, then a warrant is issued for their arrest. Dorrough made a similar observation as Hunter, saying the process of arresting the person could have been done at the time of the stop instead of waiting for a warrant.
On the flip side, though, he did agree with Primo that the cite and release program would decrease the number of jail book-ins.
“The officer has the opportunity to either make an arrest or not make an arrest,” Dorrough said. He was not sure how often peace officers use that discretion, but they do have options in every situation of whether to arrest the person or not.
Tom Watson, who won the primary election against Dorrough for the Gregg County district attorney’s office, and Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano did not respond to requests to comment by press time.