Updated criminal code would give police more discretion
An updated Petersburg criminal code would give officers more discretion when it comes to charging individuals with minor crimes.
“What we’re looking at is taking some issues that are minor crimes and giving the officers the option to write a simple borough ordinance violation similar to a traffic ticket,” Police Chief Kelly Swihart said.
Officers would determine whether or not to arrest individuals for crimes such as Driving while License is Suspended, Revoked or Canceled, Trespassing and Minor Theft.
“If we get a young person, for instance, shoplifting at one of the stores we can write them a ticket and it doesn’t become part of their criminal record,” Swihart said.
Writing a ticket instead of making a formal arrest also frees up time and resources for the police, prosecutor, court and defendants.
Swihart worked in Wasilla before coming to Petersburg and he used his experiences there as he helped update Petersburg’s criminal code.
“Up in Wasilla, where we found it really beneficial was dealing with minor property crimes,” Swihart said. “We responded to dozens of shoplifting calls a month. We could just write a $300 ticket and be done with it. No police report. No charging documents.”
The code in no way prevents officers from making arrests and processing criminal violations in the current manner.
“Discretion is a big part of what we do,” Swihart said. “There’s still accountability and it happens quicker. If we had a person who was being difficult or was a repeat offender or the officer decided that person needed to go to jail we still had that option.”
And Petersburg Police might have that option as well if the assembly passes the updated ordinance.
An assembly must pass an ordinance three times for it to become enacted. The assembly passed the updated criminal code unanimously during its first reading.
According to the ordinance, any person issued a citation by police would be able to contest it but would not have the right to trial by jury or the right to borough provided counsel. The accused would have the right to trial by magistrate and does have the right to obtain counsel at their own expense.