Austin police, Texas DPS partnership could come back soon

The Austin Police Department says its partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety could be back up and running in a couple of weeks. The controversial collaboration was put on hold after troopers were diverted to the Texas-Mexico border last month.

At the Monday, June 5 Austin Public Safety Commission meeting, Austin Assistant Police Chief James Mason gave an update on the partnership, which remains on pause.

"It really depends on where they need to be able to give their support. And, you know, we ask every week, but that was just the latest information I was given tonight, was probably a couple of weeks out," said Mason.

DPS initially came on board in late March to help APD tackle crime amid a staffing shortage. But on May 13, DPS halted operations in Austin, so troopers could be deployed at the border following the end of Title 42.

In the meeting, Mason touted the collaboration.


"It did reduce our calls for service. It reduced our response times," Mason told commissioners Monday night.

He pointed to data that showed a reduction in crashes and a decrease in violent crime when troopers were deployed to certain hotspots. Now, Mason says, crime is back up.

"There's a significant increase of when they were here deployed, to now, when they're not deployed," said Mason.

While Austin police made the case to bring troopers back to Austin, some activists laid out why they believe the partnership should end.

"This is not safety," said Bill Wallace of the Austin Justice Coalition, who testified at the meeting.

"88 percent of these arrests were of black and brown people," said Chris Harris, policy director for the Austin Justice Coalition, citing statistics for DPS misdemeanor arrests in Austin.

Members of the Austin Justice Coalition cited concerns about racial profiling.

"The director of DPS said that they were going to aggressively police," said Wallace. "What you get is black and brown bodies being constantly watched over and policed."

But Mason says there’s more to those numbers than meets the eye.

"When you really look at the data, 97 of those are warrant, they have warrants. We don't have a discretion in that. So when an officer comes across somebody with a warrant, they have to take them to jail," said Mason.

Austin police admit DPS isn’t a long-term fix, and they’re asking the city for recruitment money to permanently fill more than 300 vacancies.

"We need more officers to be able to be on the street, to be able to supplement our officers that are out there now," said Mason.

But Wallace says even short-term, DPS is the wrong way to go.

"There's absolutely no trust and respect because they didn't wipe their feet on the rug when they came through the door," said Wallace.

The partnership will once again be a topic of discussion at Austin City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting on June 19.