HOUSTON – Harris County’s new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion program is missing a key ingredient and without it, misdemeanor marijuana cases keep officers tied up and keeps those busted out of jail, according to the president of the Houston Police Officers Union.
They call it a blown promise.
Officers believed Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s new diversion program would save officers time and free them to handle emergencies quicker.
“It’s not happening,” said Ray Hunt, president of HPOU.
When asked what the program is doing, Hunt replied, “…letting people off for misdemeanor marijuana use.”
Instead of taking everyone busted for misdemeanor marijuana to jail, the program allows certain offenders to pay $150 and take a four-hour decision-making class.
They will not be arrested nor charged.
Also, police no longer need to drive seized marijuana downtown for processing and storage. There is supposed to be a drop box in every station, however, KHOU 11 News found none.
“I truly, until you contacted me about this story, I believed that those lock boxes were already in place,” Hunt said. “I just made a phone call to one of the officers and they’re still not in place.”
As a result, officers near West Oaks Mall still spend between 45 minutes and two hours dropping off seized marijuana, Hunt said.
“It’s a waste of manpower, a waste of gas, just a waste of time,” he added. “We need these lock boxes and we need them now to put our officers back on the streets.”
It will not happen until the end of April at the earliest, an HPD spokesman told KHOU 11 News. The custom-made boxes take six to eight weeks to build.
HPD expects to have about 15 by May 1, 2017.
As for Ogg, who campaigned on the diversion program, her office believes it is working fine.
“The Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program is already responsible for more officers being able to spend more time fighting crime in the streets,” said Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
“Officers no longer have to go through the booking process with persons caught with small amounts of marijuana and don't have to spend time testifying against them in court. Officers have long had to drive downtown to drop off evidence, but that will improve thanks to this program as more and more as the evidence lockers are installed in stations. This program has the full support of the chief police, the sheriff, the constables of Harris County.”
Though until the lock boxes arrive, officers expect no relief.