AUSTIN (KXAN) — During the Austin City Council work session Tuesday, council members received an update on the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) collaboration with the Austin Police Department (APD), which included statistics on the number of traffic stops DPS made and how response times have decreased.

According to DPS, the Austin Violent Crime Task Force (AVCTF) is a data-driven violent crime suppression task force composed of troopers, special agents and intelligence-level policing.

APD Chief Joseph Chacon told council Tuesday the department currently has more than 300 vacant officer positions, as well as 102 separations in the year to date. Those staffing shortages, paired with Austin’s continuous population growth, have been responsible for slower response times and other challenges, he said.

Chacon said the collaboration with DPS is twofold, aiming to aid with traffic enforcement efforts while also reducing violent and gun-related crimes.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that we need to be people-centered,” Chacon said. “That we need to keep people at the center of this effort and make sure that we’re doing it the right way and not causing harm, but actually helping.”

Response from Council

Some council members, like Vanessa Fuentes (District 2) and Ryan Alter (District 5), told KXAN they received questions and concerns from community members about the partnership the week it launched. The initiative launched as a way to provide law enforcement reinforcement in the city as APD continues to face staffing shortages.

On Tuesday, Council Member Jose Velasquez said he “was inundated with phone calls from community members that wanted to understand the partnership better. There’s a disparity when it comes to east of I-35 and west of I-35 as far as presence is concerned.”

Jonathan Kringen, APD’s chief data officer, said DPS troopers are deployed to areas where the highest number of violent crimes are reported.

“This decision focuses fundamentally around calls for service, not choice by APD here’s where to go,” he said. “It’s what the community is asking via 911.”

So far, APD officials said DPS troopers have worked in at least seven sectors of the city thus far, with Chacon adding the number of DPS troopers assisting APD varies each week.

“The information we had asked for including arrest demographics, where the patrol was located and happening – we were not presented with that exact information,” said Council Member Fuentes.

During a press conference last week, Chacon said the department was working on gathering demographics information. On Tuesday, APD’s public information office asked us to submit a public information request for further information on the exact locations of more heavily focused DPS patrols.

“I think it was a great briefing. I think it provided transparency to the residents of Austin as well as the council members on the collaboration between APD and DPS,” said District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly.

Part of Kelly’s district is in Williamson County, and therefore served by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office – not APD. So Kelly said she brought that data to APD so police can consider the Williamson County calls when deciding where to deploy additional DPS troopers.

“I definitely believe if we’re using a data-driven approach, that it’s important for me to advocate on behalf of the residents in my district,” she said. “And if it is the case that after reviewing all the data they do need more troopers in my district, my district would welcome that.”

Background on the DPS partnership

With DPS’ help, police have been able to speed up response times, Chacon said in a memo last week. Still, he added it’s not enough help for APD to rebuild the specialized units that had to disband so officers could focus on high-priority 911 calls.

DPS’ priorities in this partnership are focusing on high-crime areas and curbing dangerous traffic violations, like speeding and DWIs.

Chacon has called the program “successful.” According to his memo, violent crime has decreased about 25% across the city as a whole since DPS started patrolling in Austin. In high-crime areas where DPS patrols more heavily, violent crime is down nearly 60%.

Story from east Austin man stopped by DPS trooper

“It was a quick traffic stop, it turned out to be a brake light I had out,” said Jacob Chamblin. He said a DPS trooper pulled him over last week off East Oltorf Street.

“It went by quick and was very professional,” he said.

Chamblin said he’s seen an “immense” DPS presence the last two weeks.

“I would say, every time I go outside of my house, I see DPS,” he said. “There’s been a lot of issues with crime here recently, and I don’t always feel safe walking around. I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of being pulled over, but I don’t mind their presence. I do, I do like it.”

Traffic enforcement efforts

Under the current partnership, Chacon said the goal is to report the number of arrests and traffic stops made each week.

A traffic analysis revealed I-35 through downtown, Mopac and Highway 183 typically see the most crashes.

During DPS’ first two weeks within the partnership, the state agency made more than 4,000 traffic stops, with approximately one-quarter of stops resulting in tickets issued. DPS’ traffic enforcement efforts mainly focus on aggressive and reckless driving, racing and other potentially dangerous traffic violations.

On traffic stops, Council Member Velásquez asked if immigration status information is being collected. Chacon said that is not the case, adding if criminal offenses are found and arrests are made, that question may be asked at the Travis County Jail by its staff.

Emergency response time changes

Looking through two weeks’ worth of data, APD provided the following updates on response times.

  • Reduced response times to emergency calls for assistance in DPS deployment areas:
    • Week 1: Decreased by nearly two minutes
    • Week 2: Decreased by one minute and 33 seconds
  • Reduced response times to urgent calls for assistant in DPS deployment areas:
    • Week 1: Decreased by more than seven minutes
    • Week 2: Decreased by five minutes and 26 seconds
  • Reduced response times to emergency, urgent calls citywide:
    • Week 1 emergency calls: Decreased by 23 seconds
    • Week 2 emergency calls: Decreased by 15 seconds
    • Week 1 urgent calls: Decreased by 52 seconds
    • Week 2 urgent calls: Decreased by 49 seconds

Low-level marijuana crime enforcement under partnership

Chacon said that APD traditionally doesn’t taken action on low-level marijuana possession, in part due to voter approval last spring. However, Chacon said DPS typically treats these situations as custody arrests.

Under this partnership, Chacon said DPS has been working with local prosecutors before citing and releasing those found in possession of low levels of marijuana.