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State troopers will resume patrolling Austin streets in July, with some changes in response to criticism

By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune

State troopers will resume patrolling Austin streets in July, with some changes in response to criticism” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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State troopers will resume a partnership with the city of Austin to assist with policing duties after a month-and-a-half hiatus and facing criticism for disproportionately arresting Latino and Black residents.

Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said Thursday the second iteration of the partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety will have a different deployment strategy after the first effort came under scrutiny for overpolicing predominantly Latino neighborhoods.

“The partnership with DPS has already proven valuable to reducing crime and shortening response times,” Chacon said in the announcement. “This new iteration will ensure we continue that while taking [Austin City] Council direction into account and pivoting the deployment strategy.”

Earlier this year, Mayor Kirk Watson requested support from DPS to help make up for Austin’s police staffing shortages and long response times to 911 calls. After a brief hiatus during which DPS troopers were diverted to the state’s southern border, they will return to Austin on July 2 to assist with traffic and violent crime issues, Thursday’s announcement said.

Roughly a month after the partnership began, the Travis County Attorney’s Office released statistics showing that nearly 90% of those arrested by DPS in Austin on misdemeanor charges were Black or Latino. Local leaders, who first touted a drop in violent crime after the operation’s rollout, faced criticism for DPS patrolling predominantly Latino neighborhoods at the request of APD.

Ahead of a meeting with city leadership in early May about the partnership, DPS released a racial breakdown of its traffic stops that showed Hispanic drivers are being arrested and stopped at rates disproportionate to their share of the city’s population. Latinos accounted for 54% of all stops in the first month of the operation; Austin’s population is 33% Hispanic and 8% Black, according to U.S. Census estimates.

Council members responded by criticizing the policing practices that they said targeted Latino-dominated neighborhoods. DPS Director Steve McCraw told the Austin City Council the racial disparities could be attributed to the areas in which state troopers were operating in the city.

For the second iteration of the partnership, state troopers will be deployed to parts of Austin based on APD’s direction and staffing needs, instead of areas of the city with the highest call volume and traffic, Thursday’s announcement said. This change was made in response to the mayor and City Council’s recommendations.

Chacon added that APD leadership will attend weekly shift briefings with state troopers “to ensure Austin policing values are addressed and reinforced.”

Last month, Austin police abruptly announced the operation would be paused while DPS was sent to patrol the state’s border with Mexico. State leaders anticipated an increase in the number of migrant crossing with the end of Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that allowed immigration agents to send migrants back to Mexico. Federal, state and border leaders predicted a chaotic end to the public health emergency order in May. However, migrant encounters decreased by half after the policy ended, according to Biden administration officials.

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