Apr 28, 2023 - News

Austin policing partnership largely nets Black and Hispanic people

Illustration of police lights shown through the shape of a police hat.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Austin's policing partnership with state troopers is leading to widespread arrests of Black and Hispanic people, per new data compiled by the Travis County Attorney's office.

Driving the news: Nearly nine out of 10 people arrested on misdemeanor charges by the Texas Department of Public Safety through an ongoing operation with Austin police are Black or Hispanic, per the data, which was obtained and first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

Details: The data was compiled by prosecutors who scrutinized 167 arrest affidavits since the operation began, the Statesman reported.

  • The suspects were arrested on low-level drug offenses, drunken driving and other crimes.
  • Axios has not independently verified the data.

Catch up quick: In late March, Mayor Kirk Watson announced that state troopers would 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.

The big picture: The partnership has proven divisive, with some Austinites praising the move as a crackdown on crime and others criticizing it as a doorway to unaccountable policing.

  • Already the partnership had led to protests in southeast Austin's Montopolis neighborhood, where some said they were being unfairly targeted.
  • "End Systemic Profiling," read a placard at a protest last Friday.

What they're saying: "If the goal is to address violent crime, this is not the right approach," Travis County Attorney Delia Garza told the Statesman.

  • "This was my fear (all) along and now my fear, and the fear of so many of my colleagues, has been confirmed," City Council member Zohaib "Zo" Qadri tweeted.

The other side: In a City Council work session last week, APD's chief data officer Jonathan Kringen said troopers are deployed to where the most violent crimes are reported.

  • Decisions on where to patrol "focuses fundamentally around those calls for service,” he told council members. “It is basically reporting on what the community is asking via 911."

Between the lines: While describing the data as "incomplete," Watson in a statement to Axios Thursday evening said the new information "is troubling."

  • "Like I’ve said before, this partnership is a continuing collaboration that requires transparency and accountability," he said. "I've also said that everyone in Austin deserves to be safe and to feel safe, including and without question, if you’re a person of color being stopped by police."

Of note: Axios has filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act for the locations and demographic data related to the traffic stops and arrests made by DPS in Austin since March 30.

  • Axios has not yet received a response.

What's next: The City Council will have an opportunity to ask questions of DPS leadership during a work session on May 2.


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