AUSTIN (KXAN) — People living in Austin will soon see an increased presence of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers throughout the city because of a new partnership announced Monday to assist with local police staffing issues.
During a news conference Monday afternoon, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said this plan began to take shape Friday during a conversation he had with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Watson said he also spoke with Gov. Greg Abbott afterward about this idea and thanked him for the support to move forward.
“This is what happens when you can have a good relationship between your local government and your state capital when you serve the same constituents,” Watson said.
“In Texas, public safety remains our top priority, and we will do whatever it takes to support the brave men and women in law enforcement who protect our communities,” said Governor Abbott in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to work with Mayor Watson and city officials to provide the personnel and resources needed to make Austin safer. Texas has always been—and always will be—a law and order state.”
The mayor suggested these additional resources would help deal with “unprecedented challenges with staffing levels” at the Austin Police Department. He added they could potentially assist with issues like traffic control and providing additional coverage since there is an increase lately of traffic-related deaths as well as gun violence.
“This is support and supplement, not override, not overtake. It is a partnership,” Watson told reporters. “APD is primary, but there’s support and supplement coming from DPS so that we can meet some of the needs that the staffing levels have kept us from being able to meet the way we want.”
It still remains unclear how many DPS troopers or special agents will get assigned to Austin or how exactly the police department will deploy these additional resources. APD Chief Joseph Chacon said those details remain a work in progress at this time.
However, Chacon said people could expect the extra help to arrive within “days.” Chacon also pointed to police partnering with DPS to form task forces in the past, including to address the street takeovers here in February.
“They [DPS] have stepped in when crime is up and the local resources essentially are overwhelmed, and I’m extremely grateful for that,” Chacon said.
The announcement was met with mixed reactions from community members and advocacy groups.
Save Austin Now, a political action committee that has petitioned for additional police staffing, said the move was a temporary fix for a problem the group has been calling attention to for years.
“Make no mistake, today is a positive day for public safety in our city. We need more patrols and we need more officers and this announcement gives us both. It is a temporary solution – Austin should not need to rely on state troopers to patrol its city, but three years of neglect of APD’s real needs has brought us to this point,” said Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek in a release.
Meanwhile, the Austin Justice Coalition expressed concern about how the lack of information surrounding how many troopers would be in Austin and how long they plan to stay.
“The risk is that at the moment we get some additional accountability and oversight of our local police department, because we’re able to successfully pass Proposition A, we see a new force out in numbers to which those rules don’t apply,” said Chris Harris, director of policy at the Austin Justice Coalition.
Monday’s news conference included remarks from interim City Manager Jesús Garza and DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw.
Gov. Abbott directed DPS resources to Dallas in a similar initiative in 2020, according to a previous release from Abbott’s office.
The 2020 release from the governor’s office said multiple DPS resources were sent to DFW as part of the initiative, “including DPS Special Agents, State Troopers to support DPS gang and drug investigative operations, and a team of DPS Intelligence Analysts. DPS will also provide two helicopters and two patrol planes to provide direct air support and a team of Texas Rangers to support DPD homicide investigations.”
Several Austin leaders, including Watson, spoke out about delayed police responses and long wait times for 911 calls following “street takeover” events in February around Austin.
Watson said the 911 call center received “four times the normal number of 911 calls” that night, leading to “unacceptably long waits.”
At that time, Watson said that he spoke to the interim city manager and Austin police chief about the 911 staffing challenges and hopes “to have at least a temporary solution soon.”