The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will increase its presence in Austin to assist the city’s police department in handling violent crimes and traffic incidents, according to officials. The move is a response to persistent vacancies in the city’s officer ranks and long response times to emergency calls. DPS will supply an unspecified number of officers and will generally have more presence in the city, backing up local police in emergency situations if necessary. City officials view the partnership as a stopgap measure as they try to fill the city’s more than 200 vacancies.
The move — agreed upon by Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, interim City Manager Jesus Garza, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — is a dramatic response as the city’s police department struggles with persistent vacancies in its officer ranks, a problem in virtually every major police department in the country. Austin has also had problems with long response times to emergency calls. “My top priority is that the people of Austin both are safe and feel safe,” Watson said at a joint press conference Monday afternoon with Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon and Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw. “I also want to be sure that our police officers feel respected and have the resources they need to do their job. This is a recognition that the police department needs more staff and we have a partner that can assist us.”
Despite APD’s inability to fill all of the officer positions the department is budgeted for, Austin still remains one of the safest cities in the country. Violent and property crimes declined year-over-year in January and February, according to APD data. The number of homicides in Austin declined last year compared to the previous year – the first time that has happened in four years. Austin continues to rank as one of the safest cities of its size, according to numerous reports.
While Mayor Watson and Chief Chacon spoke glowingly of the arrangement, the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) sounded the alarm claiming there are a string of unknown questions at this point, given that the deal was just structured at the end of last week. Some of those questions are:
- Exactly how many troopers will be working here?
- What exactly will they be doing?
- What access will they have to Austin police data and what powers will they have to use that data?
- What are the goals of this deployment and how will those goals be measured?
- How will this be funded?
- How long will they be here?
AJC also referred to the failed efforts of DPS Troopers to assist the City of Dallas similarly back in 2019, after only a 7-week period. In a release, AJC summarized the effort by saying “Policing does not equal safety and for many, it means the opposite. In order to ensure this new influx of police into our community doesn’t cause undue harm as it has in Dallas and along the border, we need answers to the many questions we’ve posed, regular reporting on the impacts of these troopers, and prepare to come together in case we need to demand that they leave.