Underwhelming results for first months of Dallas' cite and release program

In the city of Dallas, people who are arrested with a small amount of marijuana can get a ticket instead of a trip to jail.

But six months after the cite and release program was launched, the results are underwhelming.

The goal of the program was to reduce the jail population for nonviolent offenders, reduce the time officers spend on jail processing and improve response times by getting officers back on the street more quickly. So far, none of that appears to be happening. However, the man overseeing the program believes it soon will.

Assistant Dallas Police Chief Lonzo Anderson briefed the Dallas Public Safety Committee on the first six months of the marijuana cite and release program.  During that time, he says DPD issued 65 citations for people in possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana. In some months, police issued only a handful of tickets.

Councilman Philip Kingston believes Dallas police shouldn't even issue citations for less than 4 ounces.

"What I would like is for our police to understand where we ought to best spend our resources. And anytime you're enforcing low level marijuana laws, that's a waste of time. That's wasting our resources,” he said. “These citations that were written are all nonviolent, people with a valid ID and with no other crime. So that is the biggest waste of police resources that we could have."

Anderson says the number of tickets issued is so low because it’s such a new program.

“It's new to DPD. Officers need to get familiar with the process,” the assistant police chief said. “We realize after this first six-month analysis, there is some opportunity to do some refresher training."

The citation is not just a ticket. Suspects are fingerprinted and ordered to appear in court for misdemeanor drug possession.

Anderson says Austin's numbers were low when it launched a similar program in 2009. But from June 2017 to June 2018, they’ve had approximately 600 cite and release cases.

Then there's concern about jurisdiction. Councilwoman Sandy Greyson, whose district spans Dallas, Collin and Denton counties, would like to see consistency in all three counties.

"Part of my district gets cite and release if they possess small amounts of marijuana,” she said. “The rest of my district has to get arrested.  And so I think that's unfair."

In contrast to the low number of cite and release tickets issued over the past six months, Anderson says more than 1,500 people were arrested for carrying more than four ounces of pot during the same time frame.

As for what's next with cite and release program, the city is trying to get other municipalities to adopt similar programs for the sake of consistency.