Mar 27, 2023 - News

Texas DPS troopers to patrol Austin streets

DPS troopers will assist the Austin Police Department in patrolling the city, officials announced Monday. Photo: Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

State troopers will assist the Austin Police Department with patrolling the city amid staffing shortages that police say have led to 911 response delays and fewer officers on the streets.

Driving the news: In a Monday afternoon news conference, Mayor Kirk Watson and other city officials said the move comes at no cost to the city.

  • Officials would not disclose how many troopers would be tasked to Austin policing.

Why it matters: The partnership between APD and the Texas Department of Public Safety is unusual, and reflects the more hand-in-hand posture toward Republican state officials promised by a pragmatic-minded Watson, who was narrowly elected in a December runoff.

The big picture: How to approach public safety remains a lightning rod in the post-George Floyd era, with Austinites divided about police spending.

What they're saying: Watson said the plan will reduce traffic fatalities, response times and increase police presence across the city.

  • "My top priority is that the people of Austin both are safe and feel safe," Watson said. "This is a recognition that the police department needs more staff and we have a partner that can assist us. This partnership will improve safety and provide a runway as we recruit more officers and work to retain those currently on the force."

Between the lines: City officials and the police union remain at odds over civilian oversight and pay as negotiations over a new police labor contract continue.

  • Watson insisted that the plan happened organically from a conversation he had with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
  • "This is support and supplement," Watson said. "Not override and overtake."

Flashback: Two years ago Austin voters rejected Proposition A, which would have put more officers on the street.

  • City finance officials said Prop A would have cost as much as $600 million over five years, and critics of the measure said it would not have provided comprehensive public safety reform.
  • Prop A opponents also said spending more on law enforcement would take away from other city programs.

By the numbers: Police chief Joe Chacon told KVUE last fall that APD has 1,534 officers on the force, down 65 officers from one year prior.

  • The department received funding for 1,812 officers in 2022, even though it had more than 1,900 officers just a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, 167 officers had resigned or retired within the previous year, Chacon told KVUE.
  • 911 response times have increased from 7 minutes in 2018 to 10 minutes in 2022, interim city manager Jesús Garza said Monday.

Of note: DPS, which is responsible for the security of the Capitol complex and other state buildings, has helped other Texas cities, including Dallas and San Antonio, and the department helped Austin police make arrests in February's illegal "street takeovers."

What's next: Residents should expect to see an increase in DPS troopers within the coming days, DPS director Steve McCraw said.

  • "We purposely don't talk how many troopers, but you'll certainly see a larger number of these uniforms around town," McCraw said.
  • There is no set time for when the agreement will end, according to Watson.

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