APD and DPS partnership briefed for first time at Austin City Council meeting

Laurel Pinchback, General News Reporter

Nearly a month after the Austin Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety formed a partnership behind closed doors, Austinites were given a briefing covering the logistics of the deployment at Tuesday’s Austin City Council work session.

Due to a shortage in police officers in the region, the city of Austin partnered with DPS last month to bring in state troopers to temporarily offset needs. However, members of the City Council have questioned the decision to bring DPS into Austin as they were not involved in conversations about the agreement, leaving concerns over the policing powers state troopers hold.

The livestreamed session was the council’s opportunity to learn about the specifics of DPS’ deployment and to express their concerns with the lack of transparency going into the partnership.

District Two Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said community concerns stem from a lack of information, lack of involvement from community representatives and lack of demographic statistics detailing who is being stopped by DPS troopers and why.

“As a city council member, I was not involved in any conversation about that partnership,” Fuentes said. “I learned about it just an hour before it went public.”

APD Chief of Police Joseph Chacon said he is working in close collaboration with DPS Regional Director Vincent Luciano, and the partnership aims to primarily target traffic enforcement and violent offenses, particularly those involving guns. Chacon also said both agencies are subject to the same state and federal training.

“It is my responsibility to make sure that we maintain the safety in this city, and so I want to make sure it is done the right way,” Chacon said during the session.

APD Chief Data Officer Dr. Jonathan Kringen said violent crimes have decreased by 58% in areas DPS has been deployed compared to the same time last year.

“We’ve seen a reduction in violent crime. We’ve seen a reduction in the number of calls for service for assistance related to violent crime, and we see that we’re arriving more quickly to respond when a violent crime occurs,” Kringen said during the session.

Kringen could not provide any data regarding demographics about the race, gender, age, citizenship status and district of residence of people stopped by DPS during traffic stops. Under Texas’ racial profiling law, agencies are required to report on a yearly basis the demographics of the individuals stopped, but this law does not require the data to be made available on a continuous basis.

District Nine Council Member Zohaib “Zo” Qadri asked for this data specifically and said during the session that community members across East Austin felt as though they were being stopped by DPS officers at a disproportionate rate.

Chacon said the requested demographic data was held solely by DPS officials but that he would work to make it available to the public, also suggesting that DPS officials have expressed interest in speaking before the council.

“We’re still missing a lot of information, so I advise that community members stay vigilant and stay safe,” Fuentes said. “I have no doubt that the patrols are operating with the intention of keeping Austinites safe, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t or won’t be unintended consequences.”