Wait, so, what's going on with DPS patrols in Austin?
The City of Austin has ended its agreement with the Department of Public Safety to have state troopers supplement citywide police patrols. Mayor Kirk Watson and interim City Manager Jesús Garza decided to end the partnership Wednesday, after a couple incidents involving troopers earlier this week. But state police are still going to patrol the capital city.
The partnership with DPS was controversial, and the entire saga surrounding the patrols has been rife with confusion.
Now, it's over — sort of. Let's unpack this.
The city decided to beef up the Austin Police Department's patrols in late March. It was an informal agreement, meaning there were no formal guidelines, rules of engagement or what's called a memorandum of understanding. Those are typically negotiated prior to a partnership like this where multiple law enforcement agencies are collaborating — and they're typically vetted by city officials.
The state police patrols lasted the entire month of April and into early May. In that time, a handful of Austinites and City Council members came out against the plan, alleging residents were being racially profiled by DPS troopers, that their neighborhoods were being overpoliced, and that DPS had little accountability and transparency in its patrol process. Watson and Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon defended the patrols, arguing they'd led to a dip in violent crime and traffic fatalities.
Troopers left Austin in May after being reassigned to the border in the wake of the expiration of Title 42, a policy adopted during the pandemic to deny some migrants access to asylum in the U.S.
Late last month, the city announced it would restart the patrols, and Watson and Chacon pledged to "recalibrate" the partnership. Chacon said APD would sit in on patrol briefings and patrols would be spread more broadly across the city.
Ten days into the patrols, Watson and Garza said they were ending them, citing "recent events."
What are those 'recent events?'
There were two incidents this week involving DPS troopers. One in which a suspect fleeing a vehicle was shot in the arm by a trooper. DPS said the man was fleeing his vehicle, that he had outstanding warrants for his arrest, and that he was taken to a hospital. The Texas Rangers are investigating the incident, DPS said in a statement.
The other incident involves a South Austin man and his 10-year-old son, who say troopers drew weapons on them during an attempted traffic stop.
Carlos Meza and his son, Angel, told FOX 7 they were pulled over Sunday night and that DPS troopers approached them with weapons drawn. Bodycam video DPS provided to KUT shows at least one officer with a weapon drawn while approaching the Mezas.
In the video, DPS troopers say Carlos Meza didn't stop when their sirens flashed behind him. Meza said he didn't realize he was being pulled over until he was near his home and that his son needed to use the restroom. His son got out of the car as troopers approached, which raised concern among troopers at the scene.
The bodycam footage below shows a July 9 DPS traffic stop of Carlos Meza outside his South Austin home:
Watson told KUT on Wednesday that, in light of the incidents this week, patrols would not continue.
"Let me be very clear, as I sit here right now, I don’t anticipate that we would renew the partnership," he said.
Then, DPS said on Twitter that it would "continue patrol operations" in Austin.
Wait, so, is DPS still going to patrol Austin?
And they're legally required to do so.
Troopers patrol a certain area of downtown Austin near state-owned land, like the Texas State Capitol, the complex of state-owned buildings around the Capitol Extension and the Bob Bullock Museum.
All told, it's a 46-square-block area near the Capitol.
Those patrols have been going on for decades, and they're not going away if the city doesn't want to continue the patrol partnership.
Then, there are state highways and major roads like I-35, Capitol of Texas Highway, MoPac and Ben White Boulevard. Those are all under the Texas Department of Transportation's jurisdiction, meaning the state effectively owns them, so DPS patrols them. But that ownership — what's called a right of way — extends to stretches of city roads as well. The Austin Transportation and Public Works Department maintains parts of roads like Lamar Boulevard, South Congress Avenue, Seventh Street and Airport Boulevard, while TxDOT maintains other stretches.
Those patrols will also continue and, again, that's baked into DPS troopers' job description: They patrol state roads. That's not going away.
KUT asked DPS whether its statement on Twitter meant troopers would continue citywide patrols or just stick to state-controlled roads and Capitol-area patrols, but DPS did not respond.
When KUT asked APD whether troopers would be patrolling citywide, a spokesperson said "that’s a question for DPS not APD."
So, what's next?
Watson told KUT he "inherited" a deeply understaffed police department when he became mayor in January. He said he's committed to staffing up, now that the city isn't leaning on DPS for patrols.
Part of that requires approving a longterm labor contract with the city's police union, the Austin Police Association. The city had reached an agreement with the department in February, but Austin City Council members decided to pass on it. Their reasoning: The city was preparing to vote on a citywide ballot measure to increase police oversight, and that needed to be folded into a longterm agreement.
Following the city's move to end the DPS partnership, the union called the decision "unconscionable" on Twitter.
Watson said the union was "standing on the sideline and criticizing" and argued the city's push to give officers retention bonuses and raises across the board was proof the city was doing its part to retain officers and work toward a longterm contract.
"Throwing stones is not helping get us to a contract," he said. "So, I invite them, again, to come back to the table."
But more troopers could be coming to Austin regardless of whether the city reaches an agreement on a longterm contract with APD. Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet Thursday afternoon he was allocating an additional 30 troopers to Austin in light of the city’s decision to end the DPS patrol partnership.
That would bring the total to 130 troopers in Austin, according to the governor.