This originally appeared on Cleveland.com on Jul 26, 2020.
CLEVELAND -- Our country is at a crossroads, forced to recognize that the police charged with keeping us safe often act as state-sanctioned vehicles of violence disproportionately perpetrated against communities of color. Our taxes pay for the weapons they use against us. Cleveland’s own use of force policy empowers police to use “force that causes an injury,” if necessary, to carry out an arrest.
While demands to change the police seem radical to some, the status quo — an average of 19 people killed each week at the hands of police in the United States, whether those killed were armed or not — should be unacceptable to all.
While we continue to engage in necessary life-or-death debate about reform versus defunding versus abolition, counties in Ohio should immediately expand “cite and release,” which would decrease opportunities for police violence, lower costs, and mitigate the devastating effects of cash bail.
Cite and release means that, instead of bringing someone accused of a crime to jail, where they may stay days if not months if they are unable to post cash bail, the individual is given a citation and a date to appear in court — similar to what often occurs during routine traffic stops.
This policy change, which at least nine Ohio counties quickly adopted in response to COVID-19 as a jail decarceration method, is not radical; it’s common sense. If police were released of the obligation to physically arrest people for certain charges, the force used to execute such arrests would decrease. George Floyd was killed by excessive force, which was used to execute an entirely unnecessary arrest — the crime for which he was arrested is a nonviolent, fourth-degree felony under Ohio law.
Expanding cite and release, which limits physical contact between people and police, could save lives. It would also allow for cost-savings — one way to decrease police funding. Currently, if an officer arrests someone, that officer is removed from patrol while he or she detains, removes, and books the accused person. If, instead, the officer wrote a citation, both the accused and the officer would remain in the community, allowing for a decrease in the total number of police officers.
Expanding cite and release policies would also ameliorate some of the most devastating effects of cash bail. People held pretrial because they cannot post cash bail, compared with those arrested for the same crime who purchase their release, are more likely to be convicted, sentenced to jail or prison, and to receive sentences that are two to three times longer. They’re also put at risk of losing their jobs, their homes, and even custody of their children. Expanding this policy would significantly limit wealth-based detention, because freedom pretrial would become the norm for more types of charges, as it is currently for those with financial resources who buy their release.
Some counties like Columbiana, Delaware, and Franklin are, in response to COVID-19, citing and releasing those charged with nonviolent crimes. Mahoning County limits this practice to nonviolent misdemeanors. The sheriff in Portage County is encouraging police to cite and release everyone, except those charged with first-, second-, or third-degree felonies or domestic violence. While there are different variations, it is clear that expanding cite and release immediately limits the number of people in jail and opportunities for police violence. Accordingly, more counties should adopt this practice and make it permanent.
Our current system of policing has failed us. The change necessary to keep our community members alive will not be realized through minimalist reform. No one policy change will be sufficient. Individuals — like Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, George Floyd and so many others — continue to die in police custody. While we must engage in hard conversations about real change, at least some choices should be easy. Stakeholders — sheriffs, police, and city councils — should immediately expand cite and release; doing so would decrease opportunities for violence, save money, mitigate the harms of cash bail, and, most importantly, could save lives.
Claire Chevrier is policy counsel at the ACLU of Ohio, where she is responsible for leading their statewide advocacy on bail reform.