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Bill would allow police to issue citations rather than make arrests

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama lawmakers are close to allowing city police officers to issue citations for some misdemeanor offenses rather than taking offenders into custody.

Senate Bill 59 by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, would require cities to pass ordinances specifying what offenses could get court summonses rather than immediate arrests. 

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, carried the bill in the House.

“The intent is to take what would be minor offenses and give the officer a chance to issue a citation rather than making an arrest,” England said. “…They will still require a court appearance, but we’re not going to take you into custody that day.”

The bill specifies what crimes still require arrests, including violent crimes and sex crimes, and crimes in which the victims are minors. Identity theft and shoplifting would require detainment of the suspect.

England amended the bill on the House floor to add fleeing an officer, abuse of an animal, carrying a pistol without a permit and any sex crime to the list of those requiring arrest. 

Melson said he agrees with the amendment and will ask the Senate to again approve the bill this week.

Some Republicans cited concerns about taking the ability to arrest away from officers.

Melson said the bill language allows discretion.

“It’s a ‘may,’ not a ‘shall,’” he told Alabama Daily News. “So, if someone is really being a bonehead, police can take them in.”

Melson also said because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns, there’s an argument to limit the number of people in and out of city police stations.

England said cities could be specific about what offenses they allow summonses for in the ordinances they craft.

England gave the example of officers on a football game day in Tuscaloosa having to make multiple arrests for underage drinking. Each arrest takes an officer off of patrol for one to two hours. Under the bill, they could issue a citation and keep patrolling, he said. 

Melson has carried this bill for several sessions with the support of the Florence Police Department.  

“They were short-handed on officers and this would keep them from having to sit at the station for two hours (for each arrest),” Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hill, said in support of the bill.

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