EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Most cases involving the police and minor marijuana offenders cited in the city’s newly enacted ‘cite and release’ policy include teens and young adults.

Nearly 40 of El Paso’s youth were admitted into the program during a three-month period at the end of 2020. Newly unveiled statistics provide an early glimpse at how the program may unfold in the community as the program continues.

“I was really pleased that we had a lot of data given to us,” said District 2 City Council Rep. Alexsandra Annello.

The City Council approved the program’s implementation with law enforcement last year. It follows rules laid out by the state and is aimed to reduce the number of people incarcerated for Class A and B marijuana charges.

The El Paso Police Department implemented the program in September and documented 290 possession of marijuana cases during a three-month period.

Between September and the end of November, the police department admitted 61 cases into the program, or 22 percent of eligible people caught with small amounts of marijuana. Police say eight individuals declined the program.

“I do think that for this being kind of the launch of the program, we are about four or five months in, I think that’s a good number,” Annello said. “I definitely think that we have to look at that data and go from there and kind of say ‘OK, where do we want to expand, enhance and strengthen this program?'”

Of all the accepted cases, 38 were issues that involved teens and young adults between the ages of 17 and 24. All cases involving the same age group included 154 individuals. Nine teens aged between 15 and 16 were caught with low amounts of marijuana as well.

Of those aged 17 years old to 19 years old, 53 percent accepted into the ‘cite and release’ program were Hispanic. In addition, 37 percent were White and 10 percent were Black El Pasoans.

Of those aged 20 years old to 24 years old, 84 percent were Hispanic and 16 percent were White, according to the data.

“When you cite a juvenile, they may not be able to pay that fine. Their parents may not be able to pay that fine, and there can be some really long-term repercussions for that,” Annello said. “We do want to stop juveniles from committing crimes, we do want to help them through that process though so that they don’t find themselves in the system.”

Zina Silva, an assistant police chief with the El Paso Police Department, said teens under 17 years old would not be enrolled into the program because it was created for adults. Those teens are admitted into the juvenile probation department.

Silva, who presented the data to the council, said the police department is in touch with the new El Paso County District Attorney. Her department is waiting on newly elected DA Yvonne Rosales’ staff to provide data on the county’s side of the program.

Rosales and her staff seem to be in support of the program, Silva added.

“Obviously, they are going through transition, so a lot of information has not been made readily available to us,” she said. “We want to see how the defendants are coming out of the program on their end.”

While comprehensive, the police department’s data is still very raw. Silva told the council that the department has not completed comparative analysis because of how new the program is.

Cases by month

  • September: 104 minor marijuana cases with 28 admitted into the cite and release program
  • October: 103 minor marijuana cases with 10 admitted into the cite and release program
  • November: 83 minor marijuana cases with 23 admitted into the cite and release program.

The data show in most of the studied cases, police officers were initiating a traffic stop or arrest. It shows police self-initiated the search in 213 of the 290 cases. They were called to check on scenes in 75 of the cases.

Individuals not offered to utilize the ‘cite and release’ program were typically facing “other charges,” according to police. While it is unclear what “other charges” means, police did not offer the program. Some specified reasons included being uncooperative, having outstanding warrants, declining the program, habitual offenders, narcotics cases, intoxication and not residing in El Paso.

In those cases, police proceeded with arrests, according to the data. In none of the cases did police use “use of force.”

Police coming out of the East Side’s Pebble Hills Regional Command Center saw the most cases. Police responding from the center saw 79 cases. Their station was followed by the Central and Mission Valley Regional Command Centers with 61 a piece.

The Westside Regional Command Center recorded 53 cases and the Northeast Regional Command Center recorded 36.

The data show the ethnicities of police and the people they searched.

Police ethnicities by all cases:

  • Hispanic – 227 (78%)
  • White – 35 (12%)
  • Black – 16 (6%)
  • Asian or Pacific Islander – 11 (4%)
  • Native American – 1 (.3%)

Defendants’ ethnicities by all cases:

  • Hispanic – 201 (69%)
  • White – 55 (19%)
  • Black – 33 (12%)
  • Asian or Pacific Islander – 1 (.3%)