As Murders Soar, Tarrant County Implements “Cite and Release” for Low Level Crimes
If you like to keep track of who has been getting killed in Tarrant County, you might have noticed that it has been a lot harder lately. According to county records there have been 84 homicides in Tarrant County so far this year. While that’s only slightly up from 81 for the same period last year, you have to remember that 2020 was a record year. Fort Worth accounted for most of Tarrant County’s murders in 2020, wracking up more 100. That many people had not been murdered in Fort Worth since the early 1990’s (crack cocaine era). It’s not slowing down. As of June 22, 2021, Fort Worth had recorded 51 homicides, as compared to 42 for the same period in 2020.
It’s not just Tarrant County though. Murder is up statewide. The once safe City of Austin broke records last year and is going to break those this year. Over in Dallas County, the City of Dallas alone has likely recorded more than 100 murders already in 2021, and Houston has logged over 200.
If you look at the suspects in those murders, you will generally find that murder was not the first crime that they committed. In most cases, they had previously been in trouble with the law for things like theft and drug possession. That’s why the tried and true way of reducing serious crime is to follow the guidance of “broken windows theory.” Broken windows comes down to being hard on lower level crimes. By locking up the petty thieves and drug dealers, you send a message to criminals and you end up keeping a bunch of potential murderers off the streets for a while. When a meth head is caught cutting a catalytic converter out of a vehicle, we are all a little bit safer if he spends the night in jail. But now in Tarrant County, law enforcement is getting softer, not harder. That methhead can take a ticket and go home because the catalytic converter is valued at less than $750.
Tarrant County officials are looking the murder rate right in the eye and moving forward with a new Cite and Release plan. Under this “live and let thug” approach, the big number to pay attention to is $750.
It’s not clear whether this is full retail price or whether it includes discounts, but for theft, so long as the good stolen is worth $750 or less, the thief is ticketed, not jailed. Same thing with criminal mischief, just makes sure you don’t smash anything worth more than $750, and the cops are now given discretion to let you go on your way with a ticket. With graffiti, you are can cause up to $2,500 worth of damage without seeing a jail cell. Consult the chart about how much drugs you can carry if you are into that kind of thing.
If you don’t think this is a good idea, you should feel better knowing that “[o]ther Texas counties such as Harris, Dallas, Bexar and Travis already have begun to use Cite and Release.” Well, just because their murder rates have gone up, doesn’t mean Tarrant shouldn’t follow their lead. It might be wiser for Tarrant to emulate the policies of cities that have successfully broken upward murder trends, but it wouldn’t be as cool.