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Austin again suspends its patrol partnership with DPS

An empty DPS SUV with its police lights on during a traffic stop on East Riverside Drive in April 2023.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
The city restarted its partnership with state police to patrol Austin 10 days ago. Now, the city is halting it again.

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The City of Austin says it won't continue its partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety to supplement police patrols.

The plan was initially rolled out last spring but was met with pushback from Austinites who felt they were being profiled. It was then suspended when troopers were deployed to the border. The city restarted patrols on July 2 but announced Wednesday that it would, again, suspend them.

The pause comes after a DPS trooper shot a man in the arm while he was fleeing his vehicle after a chase early Monday. DPS told KUT the Texas Rangers were investigating that incident. A Southwest Austin man also accused troopers of pointing a gun at him and his son earlier this week after they tried to pull him over.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Mayor Kirk Watson said the partnership was a stopgap intended to supplement the Austin Police Department's "acute staffing shortages," but that he and interim City Manager Jesús Garza agreed to suspend the patrols.

Watson later told KUT the patrols won't come back.

"Let me be very clear, as I sit here right now, I don’t anticipate that we would renew the partnership," he said.

In the first wave of patrols, the partnership came under fire after arrest numbers showed Black and Hispanic drivers were being disproportionately arrested. That raised concerns among Austin City Council members, who never voted on the plan and felt their constituents were being unfairly targeted in the Rundberg, Riverside and Montopolis neighborhoods.

Watson and city officials promised to "recalibrate" the patrols when they started back up this month to avoid those disparities. After this week's incidents, the mayor said he didn't feel confident in the plan.

"When we have incidents like we’ve had in the last few days where questions get raised as a result of those, that you can’t defend, we’ve had to make a decision to end the partnership," he said.

District 9 Council Member Zo Qadri welcomed news of the partnership's suspension, thanking Garza and Watson for "listening to the voices" of Austinites.

"This partnership was not who we are as a city, and I am thankful for it ending," he tweeted.

Austin Justice Coalition's Co-Executive Director Chas Moore, who opposed the plan from the outset, told KUT that DPS patrols were out of step with the Austin Police Department's policing philosophy. Austin police don't arrest people for low-level marijuana possession, while DPS doesn't have that policy. Moore said that, while APD isn't perfect, it does have more transparency and local accountability.

"We have this police agency that’s coming in to help, but they’re not abiding by the local way that we’ve been doing things," he said. "So it’s a … misunderstanding of proper procedure and protocol, because they quite literally are not on the same page. They literally are not in the same book."

Looming over all this is the city's renegotiation of a longterm police contract with the Austin Police Association. The union railed against the decision to end the DPS partnership on Twitter, calling it "unconscionable" and saying that "public safety is not a priority" at City Hall.

Watson pushed back, arguing the city has tried to retain officers by approving a pay raise earlier this year and giving bonuses to tenured officers. He told KUT he hopes the union will come back to the table soon "instead of standing on the sideline and criticizing."

"Throwing stones is not helping get us to a contract," he said. "So, I invite them, again, to come back to the table."

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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