New Program Could Change the Way People Are Arrested

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First-time offenders in Leon County could be getting a break if they're caught for non-violent crimes like shoplifting or underage drinking.

They could get a civil citation instead. It aims to give a first timer the chance to avoid a rap sheet and a trip to jail.

"The end result means that if the offender successfully completes a program, he will avoid a potentially life altering criminal record," said Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones.

"It's the law enforcement officer who's got the job of protecting the public to determine whether they make an arrest or whether they'll defer it. And that's the way it always will be and that's the way it should be," said Barney Bishop III, the Vice Chair for the Center for Smart Justice at Florida TaxWatch.

Along with that citation, an offender would have to undergo an assesment within 72 hours of the crime, do 25 hours of community service, and participate in treatments ranging from drug rehab to anger management. The offender pays all costs of the program and if they fail to comply they will then be arrested.

"We're trying to take a holistic approach, that's kinda the key to this thing. They're held accountable, public safety is obviously issue number one," said Tom Olk, the man who spearheaded the idea.

Because the program fees are paid by the criminal, John Q. Taxpayer doesn't have to pay any extra.

The program is expected to start the first week of December 2012.

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