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Austin, Texas – With surging violent crime in Austin combined with a woke district attorney and floundering police department suffering from low morale and retention, city and state officials requested the Texas Department of Public Safety help the Austin Police Department in March.
A few weeks later, violent crime plummeted and in last month, all crime has been below average in the parts of the city where the troopers are seemingly doing real police work.
But no good deed goes without being called a racist in law enforcement and that is exactly what some city leaders are now saying.
According to the Texas Tribune, “some Black and Latino residents say they feel under attack by the state troopers who largely set up shop in their neighborhoods.”
Last week, the Travis County Attorney’s Office released statistics showing that nearly 90% of those arrested by DPS on misdemeanor charges since March 30 were Black or Latino. As of Saturday, the office reported that nearly two-thirds of misdemeanor arrestees were Latino and almost a quarter were Black. Most charges were for drunk driving or low-level drug possession cases, including marijuana, which local officials do not typically prosecute.
It should be noted that despite officials pointing out the race of the suspects, they aren’t claiming they are innocent.
But that didn’t stop the main provocateur of Austin’s crime issues, Mayor Kirk Watson, from discussing race rather than the success that the Texas DPS has had to save his city from crime.
“The supplemental staffing has shown really real results in faster response times for assistance and decrease in violent crime,” Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said at a City Council discussion Tuesday. “The traffic enforcement, however, has been troubling. If there have been unintended or unwanted consequences, we must address them immediately. We want to ensure Ausitinites don’t feel racially profiled.”
Then there is Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon, that apparently is not shamed that under his leadership he desperately needed the help of another agency.
Chacon said on Tuesday that his department was going to push DPS troopers into other parts of the city.
“We’re going to put them in more parts of the city to spread out,” Austin’s police chief said. “We can’t ignore the calls that we’re seeing coming out of [certain areas] and violent crime, but at the same time [we are] increasing traffic enforcement … to create the balance that we’re looking for.”
Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw threw shade on Austin officials when he said that their patrol of predominantly Latino neighborhoods were chosen because they had the highest crime rates and highest number of 911 emergency calls.
Apparently McCraw is not dumb because he explained that those high crime areas and their subsequent patrols explained the high number of arrests and stops of Hispanic drivers.
McGraw said that it is misleading to compare the DPS enforcement data to citywide demographics.
“You see an up in the number of Hispanic drivers, Latino drivers,” McCraw told the council Tuesday. “But again, that’s reflected in the area that we operate. And we operate in the area that APD wants us to.”
Under the agreement with the city, 80 DPS troopers and 20 special agents have been working in the state’s capital city. The officers work 12-hour shifts for seven days, and then a new batch of officers is rotated in, McCraw said.
Over the past month, the agency has made about 12,000 traffic stops in Travis County under the operation — compared to about 18,700 stops DPS made in the county in all of 2022. McCraw reported the agency has made 780 arrests, about 60% of which were for felony crimes.
McCraw emphasized the felony arrests Tuesday, noting that his officers have seized guns and drugs — including pounds of deadly fentanyl. Troopers have also nabbed dangerous suspects, he said, including a man who was pulled over for a traffic violation and arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting his 14-year-old passenger.
The Texas Tribune
discussed the concerns of some community leaders. José “Chito” Vela calls a “vehicular stop-and-frisk” practice. Council Member Vanessa Fuentes questioned how the 12,000 traffic stops were protecting their communities when only 6% of those stops resulted in arrests, based on the limited data DPS released Tuesday.
“When we know that over 90% of the stops that the troopers are making are not resulting in arrests … I’m having a hard time making a connection to how this is reducing violent crime,” she said.
McCraw said APD was rightfully having his troopers patrol “hot spots” within the city.
“If you send us in an area, that’s exactly what you’re going to see. You’re going to see stops,” he said. “What we’re doing is traffic and what people are seeing is prevention. We’re unapologetic about enforcing all state laws.”
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