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Getting smarter about crime

The news that Harris County DA Pat Lykos has changed the office’s policy to no longer will file state jail felony charges against suspects found with only a trace of drugs is good news indeed.

Lykos said the move “gives us more of an ability to focus on the violent offenses and the complex offenses. When you have finite resources, you have to make decisions, and this decision is a plus all around.”

She said she did not have figures for how many cases may be affected, because cases are filed as possession of less than a gram.

Of more than 46,000 felony cases filed last year, almost 30 percent, 13,713, were for possession of less than a gram of drugs.

She said that while having a crack pipe will be only a ticketable offense, police still will be able to search suspects and cars if they find one. She noted that other counties, including Travis and Bexar, have similar policies. In Fort Worth, she said, the minimum is twice as large — .02 of a gram.

Lykos said the policy may help reduce jail overcrowding, an an idea “cautiously” embraced by Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

“The sheriff is cautiously in support of the policy,” said Alan Bernstein, director of public affairs for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

The new policy will be reviewed after six months in response to concerns expressed by police that crack pipe busts help catch burglars. I think we could probably learn from other counties’ experiences to tell us about that, but I suppose that’s the politics of this. Be that as it may, this will enable to DA’s office to devote more of its resources to more serious crimes, and as with the proposal by County Commissioner El Franco Lee to let more inmates do cleanup work for quicker releases, it will have the effect of easing the jail overcrowding problem. Given how pressing that matter is, it’s very encouraging to see concrete steps like these being taken to deal with it. Kudos to DA Lykos for making the call. Grits and Murray Newman have more.

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