Texas: Houston Mayor Orders Changes to Arrest Policy

Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston, issued an ordinance to prevent certain misdemeanor detainees from going to jail, and the measure ...

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Foto: Oficina del Alguacil del Condado de Harris.
  • Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston, issued an ordinance to prevent certain misdemeanor detainees from going to jail, and the measure can benefit many hispanics.
  • The crime of driving with an invalid driver’s license will no longer be considered within city limits, as an offense that warrants arrest.
  • Mayor Turner says his ordinance is a “more humane method” of dealing with low-level criminals and will give a second chance to people breaking the law for the first time.

Hispanics from Houston, Texas, could benefit from changes to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s arrest policy.

Turner issued an executive order on Monday, September 28, 2020, ordering the Houston Police Department (HPD) so that people who commit certain minor offenses are no longer detained.

Now the HPD patrolmen, on certain charges only, must deliver nothing more than a fine to the detainee and this must appear in court to continue with their legal process in the Harris County.

Turner’s order went into effect at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 and all HPD officials have already been notified of the new regulation that is historic for the city.

“The cite and release program has been conducted in other cities where it has helped reduce the prison population … the measure would improve response times by getting officers back to duty more quickly,” Turner said.

Turner’s decision says it is a “more humane method” of dealing with low-level criminals and will give people who break the law for the first time a second chance.

“Now they will have the opportunity to make changes in their lives and face responsibility for their actions without having the stain of arrest or jail time on their record,” confirmed Turner.

One of the low-profile crimes that will no longer be punished with jail is that of driving with an invalid license and which is a crime for which many Hispanics fall in Houston for traffic offenses.

Violent crimes of a domestic nature, against the property or integrity of other people do not fall under the new legislation that Turner ordered.

Arturo Acevedo, head of HPD, explained that Mayor Turner’s measure is not about being “soft on crime, but about being smarter against crime.” (Photo: Houston Police Department)

Other charges that will no longer lead to immediate arrest are possession of controlled substances, drugs, for less than four ounces. Any major carriage is classified as intent to drug distribution.

Painting property-damaging graffiti for more than $ 100 but less than $ 750. Criminal activity, such as theft or damage to someone else’s property, also for $ 100 but less than $ 750.

A singular offense is “theft of service” which applies when a person uses an agreed job without permission or prior payment and does not complete the agreed price. This crime will not be punished with jail as long as the damage is less than $ 750.

Finally, the crime of smuggling into a correctional facility food, drink or items not allowed, will not have an immediate arrest. The only exception will be when the contraband is drugs.

Sylvester Turner assured that the new executive order, called Summon and Release, does not mean that people are declared innocent, but that it will be decided in a court and before a judge their respective legal process where they can always appeal their case.

Arturo Acevedo, head of HPD, explained that the Houston mayor’s executive order is something he applauds and they have been planning since 2016 when he took office.

According to Acevedo, as confirmed to MundoHispánico, last year there were 3,000 arrests of minor crimes and that in each one they took an officer off the streets to attend to all the paperwork and bureaucracy to process each detainee.

Acevedo explained that Turner’s measure is not about being “soft on crime, but about being smarter against crime… it is something that should have been done a long time ago and we are very proud that it has finally been achieved. We know that an arrest disproportionately impacts poor people, ”said the police chief.

According to Turner, the ordinance has some exceptions that officers must consider, such as if the person who is detaining has a criminal history or if they are committing two crimes, among other variables.

In those cases, according to Turner, officers should contact the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to review the probable cause of the arrest and confirm that the suspect is eligible for the Summon and Release program.

The decision as to which detainees are not eligible to participate in the Summons and Release program should rest solely with the HPD patrols in each case after consulting with prosecutors on duty.

Since Tuesday morning, the patrols have already begun working with the new guidelines ordered by Mayor Turner.

As of this Tuesday, officers must positively identify the suspect and verify that he has no warrants for his arrest in Texas and other states and his criminal record and administrative misconduct.

So if the offense allows it and falls under the misdemeanors, the officers will present the defendant with the opportunity to participate in the Summons and Release program if the offense allows it and there are no other related charges.

If the suspect agrees to participate in the program, they must sign the summons as a promise to appear in court in the Harris County Criminal Courts.

The officer will then issue the summons. Finally, the detainee will be released, a report of the infraction will be completed, charges will be filed, and the judge will determine the date of the first hearing.

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