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Texas state police will continue to patrol Austin after city leaders call for end to partnership

By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune

Texas state police will continue to patrol Austin after city leaders call for end to partnership” 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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The Texas Department of Public Safety said Wednesday night it will continue patrol operations in the city of Austin, hours after city leaders called for the end to a widely criticized partnership that put state troopers in the city to help local authorities hampered by staffing shortages.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and interim City Manager Jesús Garza said earlier Wednesday that they had ended the collaboration between the law enforcement entities, but DPS officials said in a tweet that the agency would continue its services “as part of its responsibility to protect and serve Texas.” The agency didn’t elaborating further.

Spokespersons for state police, Watson and the city did not immediately respond to inquiries Wednesday night.

Gov. Greg Abbott first sent DPS troopers to Austin in late March, at the request of Watson. The move was supposed to support the city’s police department, which has been struggling with staffing vacancies and long response times to 911 calls.

But in the weeks after, data showed state troopers were disproportionately arresting Black and Latino residents.

“From the start of this partnership with DPS, I said I wanted Austinites to feel safe and be safe. Recent events demonstrate we need to suspend the partnership with DPS. The safety of our community is a primary function of City government, and we must keep trying to get it right,” Watson said. “This partnership was an innovative approach to address acute staffing shortages that were years in the making. However, any approach must be in sync with Austin values.”

City officials’ change of heart came after a state trooper aimed a gun at a 10-year-old during a traffic stop Sunday. A DPS trooper pulled over Carlos Meza near his South Austin home because the vehicle was missing paper plates, FOX 7 Austin reported. When Meza’s son left the vehicle to use the restroom, the trooper pointed a gun at the boy. It also comes after a trooper shot a man in the arm following a car chase, KXAN-TV reported.

DPS temporarily paused the partnership in May to send troopers to the border after the end of Title 42.

Staffing challenges had plagued the Austin Police Department when state troopers stepped in. There were more than 300 officer vacancies as of April, and that number is expected to grow with retirements, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon told the City Council. Residents had also criticized the city for slow response times when they made 911 calls. City officials like Watson initially believed the state troopers could help.

But according to April data from the Travis County Attorney’s Office, about 9 out of every 10 people arrested were Black or Latino. State and local officials at a May City Council meeting said DPS was largely patrolling predominantly Latino neighborhoods; Austin Police Department leaders said they requested patrolling of those areas because they have the highest crime rates and largest number of 911 emergency calls

A similar pattern emerged when Abbott sent DPS to Dallas after a spate of homicides four years ago. Weeks into that deployment, residents raised concerns that police were targeting people of color on the city’s south side. The experiment in Dallas ended three months in, after state troopers shot and killed a Black man during a traffic stop.

Alejandro Serrano contributed reporting.

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