BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Baton Rouge Police Department is making an internal policy change. Officers are being instructed to think twice about issuing misdemeanor summonses, and are being instructed to take the offender straight to jail.
Tickets, or misdemeanor summonses, can be written and handed to you in lieu of going to jail. They have the same effect as being arrested without going to parish prison. When you sign one, you promise to appear in court for whatever the charge. That is all about to change inside the city of Baton Rouge.
"So what we're going to attempt to do is when we run into an individual who may have committed some type of misdemeanor violation, we run him and we run his name and we find out he has other misdemeanor violations and warrants against him, we're going to book him into parish prison," said Cpl. L'Jean McKneely with the Baton Rouge Police Department.
At the end of the day, more people who will have simply gotten a ticket may wind up behind bars. This applies mainly to people who have multiple misdemeanor violations that they have ignored.
"What we're doing is taking an initiative and proactive approach to try to curb the violence here in Baton Rouge," said Cpl. McKneely.
District Attorney Hillar Moore says too often, people will get the tickets instead of being arrested.
"It's going to have some teeth to it. Bonds are going to have to be set for these individuals. Jails are packed now; I guess it will be a little more crowded. I understand what he's doing. We're feeling the pain now of years of not having this in place," said Moore.
Marjorie Esman, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana takes exception to the new policy. "Arresting people for these offenses leads to overcrowding of the jails, at great public expense. Overcrowded jails are not only more expensive, they are also more violent and lead to much greater jail conditions problems," she said.
The new policy takes effect immediately.
Esman sent the following statement via email:
There are good reasons why cities have moved towards issuing municipal citations for minor offenses. Arresting people for these offenses leads to overcrowding of the jails, at great public expense. Overcrowded jails are not only more expensive, they are also more violent and lead to much greater jail conditions problems.
It gives people criminal records, which can make it more difficult to get or keep a job, and forces them to miss time from work for court appearances, at loss of income. These have ripple effects throughout the community. Giving people who have committed trivial offenses a criminal record, making it more difficult for them to get jobs, leads to an increase in crime as people are forced to support their families in the only way they can.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world in part because we continue to arrest and incarcerate people who are not violent and who do not really pose dangers to society. We spend a disproportionate share of our state budget on criminal justice when we have trouble funding our schools and hospitals. There is no benefit to arresting people who can be given citations and returned to their families.
If while issuing a summons an officer learns of an outstanding warrant on a more serious offense, it might be appropriate to make an arrest on the other offense. But arresting people on trivial charges, that the Parish Council has decided do not deserve arrest, is contrary to public safety.