The City of Austin is nearly three weeks into an agreement to have the Texas Department of Public Safety patrol the city’s streets. The Austin Police Department says so far the patrolling has been a success, but there’s still no hard data to back that up.
At a briefing to the Austin City Council on Tuesday, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon reiterated, as he did last week, that patrols have led to a drop in violent crime. But Chacon didn’t provide council details on where state police are patrolling or how many interactions led to tickets versus arrests.
Council members expressed concern that their districts have been over-policed by DPS troopers since the partnership — an effort to supplement APD’s patrols amid the department’s staffing woes — started March 30.
While APD released a memo and held a news conference late last week about the agreement, it provided basic data points on the number of arrests and tickets issued. Neither APD nor DPS have released insights into where troopers are patrolling or who is being stopped.
District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said the lack of data makes it difficult to answer her constituents’ questions about the DPS patrols
“Us receiving just half the picture here really puts us in a challenging position,” she said.
Chacon reiterated the partnership yielded a year-over-year drop in violent crime in the last two weeks. But he recognized there were gaps in that data: There isn’t any demographic data, nor is there geographic data that’s publicly available.
“It is my responsibility to make sure that we maintain the safety in this city. And so, I want to make sure that this is done in the right way,” he said. “But at the same time we cannot lose sight of the fact that we need to be people-centered, that we need to … make sure that we’re … not causing harm, but helping.”
Chacon said troopers had so far responded to calls in seven of the nine patrol sectors in APD’s jurisdiction and that the patrols had been shifting to different neighborhoods depending on 911 calls for service.
District 4 Council Member Chito Vela said he met with residents in the Rundberg area who told him they felt “over-policed.”
“There were a number of DPS officers aggressively patrolling that area,” Vela said. “And, again, I understand … we have to respond to those calls for services that come out, but there is that balance to be struck.”
Chacon committed to providing weekly updates on data from APD and said he’s been in talks with DPS Regional Director Vincent Luciano to compile more complete data for the public.
Interim City Manager Jesus Garza, who helped Mayor Kirk Watson negotiate the deal with DPS last month, emphasized APD’s patrol officer vacancies — roughly 300 at last count — in his defense of the partnership. He asked council members to let the process play out and then reevaluate the patrols
“We’re in a crisis situation with respect to staffing APD,” he said. “This [partnership] isn’t just nice to have. It’s a must-have.”