DISTRICT B

Candidates responding: Cynthia Bailey, Renee Jefferson Smith

Municipal Court Fines & Fees, Community Service

The Houston City Council and Mayor sets policy for the municipal courts in Houston. These courts hear only Class C Misdemeanors - including such common offenses as minor traffic offenses, public intoxication, and violating other municipal ordinances.


As a City Councilmember, would you eliminate the practice of jailing people just for failure to pay fines and fees to the municipal court, if they are indigent?

Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, not being able to pay is no excuse for making them sit in jail. Jail should be reserved for those found guilty and not have people who still are presumed innocent.


Would you make one of the performance review issues for municipal judges their treatment of citizens who lack the ability to pay fines? For instance, the decision on whether to rehire municipal judges could include a review of whether they are jailing people for fines and fees related to Class C Misdemeanors or whether they are appropriately waiving fines or converting them into community service when people cannot afford to pay them.


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, judges should be held accountable and performance reviews are a good way of making that happen.


Would you end or reform the Omnibase program, which is a city contract that allows the municipal court to put a hold on people renewing their drivers’ licenses if they have not paid City of Houston Municipal Court fines or fees?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: I would end the program. Creating a cycle in which people have to make money to pay off fines for violations but also revoke your license so you can’t legally drive to work so you can’t pay off the fines is cruel and unusual punishment. People shouldn’t be put into debt over a speeding ticket.


More than 68,000 warrants for failure to appear and 23,000 warrants for failure to pay were issued by the Houston Municipal Court last year. Would you support reducing warrants for the arrest of people charged with Class C Misdemeanors who fail to appear in court or fail to pay a fine?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, our jails are already overcrowded and issuing warrants over a failure to appear instead of giving them a warning about the consequences along with another date to appear instead of an immediate bench warrant could help reduce that overcrowding.


Decriminalizing Homelessness

Most Texas cities currently criminalize people for activities they cannot control when they are homeless. For instance, the City of Houston has a "No Camping" ordinance, but no provision of what people can do if they are homeless. Other such offenses include No Sitting or No Lying in a public walkway.


Would you vote to decriminalize the daily activities of people experiencing homelessness?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, we should be trying to help our homeless population, not criminalizing them.


Cite and Release Policies

Texas state law allows local police departments to develop policies under which police may issue a citation instead of arresting someone for certain Class B and Class A Misdemeanors. Such "cite and release" eligible offenses include Driving with an Invalid License, Possession of Marijuana, and Theft (between $100 and $750). However, most city police departments lack policies that empower officers to use cite and release on a regular basis, and therefore, jails are filled with people who were booked in on these low-level, nonviolent offenses.


Will you ask the Houston Police Department to implement a broad cite and release policy?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, low-level, nonviolent crime should result in a citation instead of arrest. Such a policy would save the city millions in booking and housing like it did for Harris County when people were given citations for marijuana possession. Instead of being taken to jail, they were given a citation and could take a class for a few hours to get it voided, saving the county $30 million a year.


De-Escalation and Use of Force by the Police Department

Other government agencies control many aspects of criminal justice, but the Houston City Council has the most direct control over policing by the Houston Police Department.


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department make their “Use of Force” policies public?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to limit the use of choke holds and strangleholds to situations where deadly force is authorized?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require officers to give a verbal warning, when possible, before using force, especially deadly force?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you advocate that HPD revise its use of force policies to restrict shooting at moving vehicles unless the occupants of the vehicle are using deadly force?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require that officers exhaust all other means before shooting?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require officers to intervene and stop another officer from using excessive force?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require officers to report all uses of force including threatening a civilian with a firearm?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to require de-escalation of potentially fraught situations?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you demand that the Houston Police Department revise its use of force policies to provide specific guidelines for when certain levels of force are authorized?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes


Will you work with the Houston Police Department to implement training in de-escalation techniques for all officers?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, de-escalation has been proven to be safer for both officers and suspects and should be the predominant method over the force-first that officers are trained for due to perceived safety risks.


Will you commit to asking the Houston Police Department to develop a policy to release body worn camera video of critical incidents?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, the police are there to protect and serve and the public deserves to know what took place in critical incidents to maintain trust in our department.


Informing people of their rights post-SB 4

SB 4 makes it illegal to instruct law enforcement not to cooperate with ICE.

Will you implement a policy so that before police ask about the immigration status of anyone they have lawfully detained, they inform such persons of their right to remain silent?


Cynthia Bailey: No, The federal government has taken care of this by Miranda Warning, also known as being 'Mirandized,' .

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, a person arrested in the United States gets to know their 5th amendment rights and that includes immigrants, illegal or otherwise.


Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)

Several cities across the country have begun using LEAD programs to avoid arresting people for offenses including prostitution, drug possession, and mental health issues. LEAD programs allow law enforcement officers to connect people directly to the services they need instead of arresting them.


Will you work with the Houston Police Department to implement a LEAD program?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, we should treat such crimes as a symptom of an illness rather than as malice intent. As we recognize the importance of mental health more and more, we need to also have units that can assist in defusing situations where mental health plays a role in such situation.


Police Accountability

The Houston Police union contract will be renegotiated in 2020.

Will you negotiate a new police union contract in 2020 that will end the mandatory waiting period before an interview begins in the instances of potential police misconduct?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, misconduct should be investigated as quickly as possible.


Will you negotiate a new police union contract that will eliminate technical reasons for dismissing complaints, such as limited timeframes to report complaints and other issues like this?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, police shouldn’t be able to dismiss complaints except for concrete reasons


Will you negotiate a new police union contract that will eliminate the practice of giving officers unfair access to information about complaints? For instance, in Houston, the current police union contract entitles officers to see witness statements *before interrogation*, a benefit that no ordinary defendant gets.


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, being able to see details and craft a defense or conveniently “forget” incidents/misplace evidence shouldn’t be something police have the ability to do.

Will you negotiate a new police union contract in 2020 that will ensure that there is full civilian oversight over the police department and disciplinary procedures?


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, it shouldn’t be the police to police themselves. Officers should be treated just like other public servants because at the end of the day, that is what they are and citizens should have full oversight.


Will you negotiate a new police union contract that will ensure that misconduct is not erased from police records?


Cynthia Bailey: Yes

Renee Jefferson Smith: Yes, having a full and complete record of officers is important, especially if they leave the department so that other departments and citizens know exactly what said officer has done.


Tell us about your law enforcement and criminal justice priorities.


Of the issues listed above, what would be your top priority to work on? Why?


Cynthia Bailey: Demanding that the Houston Police Department make their “Use of Force” policies public

Renee Jefferson Smith: The mental health issue by far. While we have come a long way in the last two decades, law enforcement still lags behind on being able to handle such incidents. Many times, people with mental health disorders have been shot and killed over their actions. The expansion of special training for units meant to handle these incidents should be a vital aspect of policing in the 21st century and will cause a reduction in police shooting deaths due to mental health problems.


Are there any additional important issues of law enforcement and criminal justice that you want to push? Why? Please talk about specific policy changes you would seek.


Cynthia Bailey: No

Renee Jefferson Smith: It is time to end cash bail. Cash bail is the criminalization of the poor because when arrested on suspicion of a crime, if one can’t pay one can’t leave. Now someone is sitting in jail for a crime they haven’t been convicted of. This not only flies in the face of innocent until proven guilty by forcing them to sit in a cell because they couldn’t make bail, taxpayers must shoulder that cost at a staggering $1 billion a year according to Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. There are more effective ways to ensure that people arrive as well. Ankle monitors, for example, are cheap and alert police if someone flees or cuts it immediately. If someone wants to post bail wants to flee, they likely will and be long gone before anyone realizes when they don’t show for their court date. Pretrial doesn’t have to be a war on the poor.

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