Policy targets low-level offenders
By Anita Miller
Hays County’s consideration of “cite and divert” policies governing low-level criminal offenses will bring together the Commissioners Court and the San Marcos City Council on Sept. 30 for a presentation by an advocate of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (L.E.A.D.).
The presentation will be given by a former police chief from Albany. It is expected to last about 30 minutes, and will be at 3 p.m. The presentation will be streamed and archived for those who are interested but unable to attend.
L.E.A.D. was instituted as a pilot program in Seattle in 2011, and promotes a diversion strategy for low-level offenders that gives them an opportunity to have the offense not appear on their criminal record. Those who do not successfully complete the program would still face arrest and trial.
According to Jordan Buckley of the Mano Amigo organization – which has pushed for such a policy to be implemented in Hays County – the presentation should “dovetail well” with the outline of a program presented recently to the Hays County Criminal Justice Commission.
In addition to low-level possession of marijuana (four ounces or less) qualifying offenses would include criminal mischief $100 to $749; graffiti $100 to $2,449; theft, $100 to $749; theft of service $100 to $749; contraband in a correctional facility by employee or volunteer of correctional facility; and driving while license invalid.
For individuals to qualify they must be a resident of the county where it occurred, a student of an educational facility in the county; or be employed in the county.
Additionally, the county’s district attorney may order participants to attend courses including educational resources, surrendering, impact education and alcohol and drug offender education. Cost of the courses range from $60 to $100 and would be borne by the offender.
Cite and divert policies have increasingly come to the forefront in Texas as counties struggle to deal with the Legislature’s legalization of hemp and the lack of available laboratories to test whether seized substances are hemp or marijuana, which is still illegal in the state and classified as a Schedule I federal offense. Hays County DA Wes Mau has said he intends to keep prosecuting those cases.
If Hays County adopts the “Cite & Divert” police, it would be the first Texas county to do so. If it happens, it would be against a backdrop of ongoing jail overcrowding that currently forces the county to outsource inmates elsewhere, and to pay other counties in the process.