FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Police officers in Tarrant County now have the option to issue a citation for certain low-level misdemeanor crimes instead of arresting the suspect.

The county made the change under the state’s “cite and release” law.

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“It has the potential to be a time-saver and be more efficient for the police at the time,” said Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson.

The consequences for the offenses will remain the same, but instead of being booked into the jail, the citation will require the person to come to court at a later date.

“We are still prosecuting,” Wilson said. “Make no mistake, we are still prosecuting crime in Tarrant County.”

The ‘cite and release’ policy includes the following charges:

Possession of marijuana less than two ounces
Possession of marijuana between two and four ounces
Possession of controlled substance in penalty group 2A less than two ounces
Possession of controlled substance in penalty group 2A between two and four ounces
Criminal mischief if the amount of loss is between $100 and $750
Graffiti if the amount of loss is between $100 and $2,500
Theft if the value stolen is between $100 and $750

“They’re certainly not any crimes that I think the police would think of as violent or the society would think of as violent,” said Wilson.

Criminal justice reform advocate Cory Session says it will alleviate overcrowding at the Tarrant County Jail, save taxpayers’ money, and ultimately help families.

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“It’s long overdue, long overdue for this county,” he said. “People who end up going to jail who can’t make bond for the offense, on these types of crimes, end up losing their jobs… You end up nine times out of ten on public assistance for food, for housing. It’s a ripple effect.”

However, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association, Manny Ramirez, is concerned about unintended consequences of the policy.

“We have to be very careful on what we say and the message we send, and this policy has the ability in my opinion to send the message that we are soft on crime in Tarrant County, and for me, that’s unacceptable,” Ramirez said.

Each of the 41 law enforcement agencies in Tarrant County can decide whether or not to participate in ‘cite and release.’

The Arlington Police Department will be the first to implement the policy on July 1.

Officers have been undergoing training on how it work.

“We will support this program by giving officers an additional option to cite and release a person who meets the criteria,” said Arlington Police Chief Al Jones. “Officers will also still have discretion on whether to arrest the person and bring them to jail or field release them through this new program for certain qualifying misdemeanors.”

The Fort Worth Police Department said in a statement, “The Cite and Release program in no way takes away an officer’s ability to arrest an offender. The decision to make a custodial arrest or utilize the Cite and Release program remains at the discretion of the investigating officer. Additionally, it does not prevent prosecution of offenses, it only provides another method through which a crime can be prosecuted…. We believe the Cite and Release program will be another important step in increasing the efficiency of our officers as we all work together to reduce violent crime and keep Fort Worth safe.”

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Other Texas counties such as Harris, Dallas, Bexar and Travis already have begun to use Cite and Release.

Caroline Vandergriff