AUSTIN, Texas — A partnership between the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Austin Police Department has come into question. Mayor Kirk Watson, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick struck up an agreement for DPS and APD to collaborate on enhancing safety in the community through traffic stops and responding to violent crimes.
The contract was also supposed to address the shortage of officers with APD. However, the partnership has caused controversy in that people felt left out of the agreement. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Austin Justice Coalition filed Texas Public Information Act requests on Tuesday due to “lack of transparency” pertaining to DPS trooper’s policing in Austin. Austin City Council didn’t even have knowledge of the agreement, per ACLU.
According to ACLU, “The public information requests are being sent to the City of Austin and the Texas DPS to gain clarity and gather information about how this partnership came to be, how it will work, and what impact it will have on Austinites.”
Some are uneasy that DPS is providing enforcement given their mismanagement of the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde on May 24, 2022. The community is still asking for accountability from the DPS and has yet to receive it.
“The state’s police force has no place patrolling the streets of Austin, monitoring our communities, and criminalizing our neighbors. From the Department of Public Safety’s deadly mismanagement during the Uvalde school shooting to their anti-immigrant role in Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, the agency has demonstrated a lack of accountability, transparency, and concern for local communities," said Savannah Kumar, attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “We have reason to worry that troopers patrolling Austin’s streets will lead to increased stops and citations for minor traffic violations, creating unnecessary contacts with law enforcement for people across Austin, and especially for people of color.”
Critics of the agreement say state troopers will not be obligated to follow local laws on pot use and limit no-knock warrants, according to the Austin-American Statesman.
On average, state troopers are making 16 arrests and 300 traffic stops per day in Austin, according to a report from the Statesman. DPS says its officers conducted over 1,570 traffic stops and wrote 765 citations through Monday, making 52 felony and 31 misdemeanor arrests. The troopers even stopped three large-scale street takeovers.
Despite helping to clean up the streets of Austin, many are still upset with not being a part of the decision to bring in state troopers, as it carries far more weight than one might consider. With a bill in the Texas House that proposes to abolish Austin’s government and establish in its place a state-led District of Austin, many see the partnership as an overstep in that direction.
“The announcement, emblematic of the agency as a whole, lacked the details and transparent process necessary for community members to hold the police accountable. We call on the Austin City Council to intervene and end this alarming so-called partnership between APD and the Texas DPS,” stated Kumar.