By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
So far SPD arrests more than it cites for marijuana
Officers have discretion with city’s law, in effect since Jan. 1
W Mike Broadhead
Chief of Police Mike Broadhead

Statesboro police officers continue to charge some suspects with misdemeanor marijuana possession under the state law and book them into the county jail. A city ordinance that took effect Jan. 1 giving officers discretion to cite and release has been used in fewer instances so far.

Statesboro City Council on Dec. 4 unanimously approved the ordinance allowing the Statesboro Police Department to cite and release individuals found in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. “In no event shall any person” convicted under the city ordinance “be punished by imprisonment for any term,” it states. In place of the state law’s provision for up to a year in jail and a fine up to $1,000, the city ordinance makes the penalty in Municipal Court a fine of no more than $500, or community service if the judge is convinced the offender cannot pay.

But the council did not act on a resolution read by Mayor Jonathan McCollar that would have directed the SPD to “cite exclusively under local ordinance,” with certain exceptions. Chief of Police Mike Broadhead had expressed support for giving police the option of citing and releasing offenders for whom possession of a small amount of marijuana was the only crime. But during the December meeting, he also asked that the council not limit officers’ discretion to charge suspects under the state law.

The Statesboro Police Department retained that discretion, and officers are exercising it, he confirmed in an interview this week.

“The guidance I’ve given the officers is that that’s not just a whim decision. It should be based on criteria,” Broadhead said. “So if the person has a criminal history, like one that includes drugs particularly or violent crimes, then they’re not a good candidate for cite-and-release.”

The city’s ordinance requires a person who receives a citation for this offense to appear in court. So some of the other criteria Broadhead mentioned are based on that requirement. Someone getting a citation isn’t fingerprinted, so police have to rely on a driver’s license or other identification.

“If they don’t have good, valid ID, if they’re not a good risk to show up for court for whatever the reason or if there are co-occurring criminal charges that are not appropriate for cite-and-release, then they should be issued a state charge,” Broadhead said.

 

7 arrests, 3 tickets

In the first two weeks the ordinance was in effect, through last Monday, the Statesboro Police Department charged 10 individuals with misdemeanor marijuana possession. Of these, seven were arrested and booked into the county jail under Georgia’s state statute, while three were issued citations for violating Statesboro’s ordinance and not jailed.

Three of the seven taken to jail were charged with additional offenses. For two of the three, driving under the influence of drugs was the other charge, while a third person was charged with a stop sign violation in addition to possession of marijuana, according to the Bulloch County Jail booking reports routinely received by the Statesboro Herald.

Some co-occurring charges, such as DUI — a misdemeanor for which an arrest is required — and any felony, would always have presented exceptions to cite-and-release.

“There are some circumstances that a person couldn’t be charged into Municipal Court,” Broadhead said. “Say they got arrested for DUI also, say they got arrested for family violence and they were in possession of marijuana. Well, you can’t split those charges. That person has to be arrested, so they may as well be arrested on the marijuana charge too.”

Four of the seven individuals arrested by Statesboro police for misdemeanor marijuana possession from Jan. 1 through Jan. 14 did not have another charge shown in the booking reports. Broadhead noted that three out of the 10 total arrests were from a single incident.

 

In transition

Officers trained, often through years of experience, that possession of marijuana leads directly to an arrest are also having to adapt to the new situation.

“So for them to change gears and go, ‘Oh, that’s no longer arrestable,’ there’s a transition period for them too,” Broadhead said. “So, I think as time goes by and they get more comfortable with that ordinance, probably that percentage will change about how many are getting cited and released and how many are getting arrested.”

If the mayor and council did decide to issue further instructions on this matter, Broadhead would want to preserve four general exceptions for officer discretion, he said. These would be relevant criminal history, the necessity of good ID, the risk of defendants not showing up for court and co-occurring criminal charges.

The resolution that was presented but not adopted in December would have required officers to cite under the ordinance if “satisfied with the defendant’s proof of identity, no other arrestable criminal charges arise from the same incident, the officer reasonably believes the defendant will show up to Municipal Court, and the defendant has no active warrants.”

 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter