Bob Klett, San Marcos’ new interim police chief, said the department “stands behind its citizens," after concerns over how often police arrest people for offenses where they could issue citations instead.
According to a city report detailing more than 330 interactions with police last year, only 20 citations were given to people who could have been cited and released. Most of those arrested were people of color; all the black people who were stopped were arrested.
The report also found that a third of low-level marijuana arrests were of black people, but they account for about 5% of the city’s population.
Before City Council unanimously approved Klett to the position Tuesday, the nonprofit social justice group Mano Amiga demanded city officials work to implement a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to divert people who commit minor offenses to a community-based program instead of jail.
"San Marcos has been in an upheaval really and a lot of it is about race to be frank,” said Mano Amiga member Jordan Buckley. If the San Marcos Police Department "doesn't want bias to get in the way of their policing then it’s incumbent on them to take [council’s and residents’] guidance.”
Klett said the department is seeing better cite and release numbers this year.
"We would like to say that we had cite and release since 2007 in Texas,” he said, “and it’s never really come up as a concern until recently.”
In May, City Council established a committee to look into criminal justice reforms because of the racial disparity in arrests and jail overcrowding. In his new role, Klett will represent that committee while working with Hays County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.
Council member Mark Rockeymoore said it was important that SMPD leadership do its due diligence to reduce disparities in enforcement.
"The community is beginning to change,” he said. "The community is getting browner, it’s becoming blacker and there are more people coming from diverse locations."
Council member Lisa Prewitt also made it clear that Council would set the terms in which the department followed, not one police chief.
“We will continue working on the criminal justice committee to ensure that we deliver what our community deserves,” she said.