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The Associated Press

AUSTIN - Lawbreakers busted by police for small amounts of marijuana possession or for spray painting graffiti will likely be spared a trip to jail under a "cite and release" policy that Austin police plan to implement.
By the end of the year, police Chief Art Acevedo wants to have a policy in place giving officers more flexibility in deciding which suspects get ticketed and which get carted off to jail. The policy would be in line with a law passed by state legislators last year that applies to only certain types of misdemeanor arrests.
Austin would join other Texas cities, including Dallas, that have given officers discretion to issue citations and not handcuff and haul off suspects to the county jail.
"We are committed to it," Acevedo said in a story in Sunday editions of the Austin American-Statesman. "We just have to work through the actual process."
Penalties for the offenses would not change, nor would the process by which such cases move through the court system, officials said.
Among the offenses included in the law are driving with a suspended license, criminal mischief and theft when the damage is less than $500.
Supporters of the "cite and release" policy said it eases strains on county jails and frees up officers to pursue more serious crimes instead of taking petty criminals to jail, a process that can take up to three hours. According to a recent study, about 15,000 Austin residents could have been cited last year instead of taken to jail.
State Rep. Jerry Madden said he proposed the law because he supports keeping more officers on the street.
"I thought it made sense, that it is a smart-on-crime type bill," Madden said.
Critics of the policy said it encourages police to release criminals back onto the streets. The law "sends the exact opposite signal" from what authorities should be conveying to offenders, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley told the Austin newspaper.
"My thoughts are that the entire process is a very creative way to decriminalize how we prosecute drug cases in Texas," Bradley said.

Wire Service
 
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