AUSTIN, Texas – The City of Austin, without citing specific reasons, on Wednesday announced it has suspended the partnership between the Austin Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
DPS troopers for the past few months have been augmenting APD as it works through a staffing shortage. That was interrupted for a time, when DPS troopers were redirected to the U.S.-Mexico border upon the expiration of the Title 42 policy.
“Public safety is at the very core of what we do in city government and this partnership was a practical approach as the Austin Police Department faces serious staffing challenges,” Austin interim City Manager Jesús Garza wrote in a news release. “We have heard Mayor and Council’s concerns about recent events and agree that we must have absolute certainty that any solution we put in place maintains the trust and wellbeing of our community members and that all law enforcement officers working to keep our city safe are on the same page when it comes to policing practices.”
While the partnership has been credited for a reduction in violent and gun crimes, as well as traffic fatalities, it has created controversy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Austin Justice Coalition filed Texas Public Information Act requests on April 4 for the arrangement’s “lack of transparency.” ACLU said the decision regarding the partnership was made with no public input and Austin City Council wasn’t even aware of the deal.
Black and Latino residents have complained about their communities being unfairly targeted by DPS, according to Spectrum News 1 media partner the Texas Tribune. Data from the Travis County Attorney’s Office showed 90% of Austin arrests were Black and Latino.
“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,” Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said in Wednesday’s news release. “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.”