AUSTIN (KXAN) — A report from the Travis County Attorney’s Office shows 65% of people the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested for misdemeanors in Austin since March 30 were Latino, and 23% were Black.
On March 30, DPS began patrols in Austin as part of the Austin Violent Crime Task Force (AVCTF) to assist the police department amid a staffing shortage.
APD Chief Joseph Chacon said DPS’ priorities in the initiative are to crack down on dangerous driving and violent crime. The AVCTF uses data on crashes and violence-related 911 calls to determine where DPS troopers patrol based, both APD and DPS have said.
Chief Chacon has called the initiative successful so far, previously stating that violent crime is down 58% in crime “hot spot” areas where DPS has more heavily patrolled.
On Thursday, about one month into the partnership, County Attorney Delia Garza calls some of the demographic data “concerning.”
Below is a breakdown of the 167 misdemeanor arrests referred to her office from March 30-April 22.
- Latino – 108 (65%)
- Black – 38 (23%)
- White – 20 (12%)
- Asian/Pacific Islander – (.6%)
“We have worked hard to build trust in communities of color and we risk eroding that trust if the operation between the City of Austin and DPS continues in its current iteration,” Garza said in a statement. “We all agree that we need to prioritize violent crime and true threats to public safety, and I am hopeful the City and DPS can find a way to accomplish this without disproportionally impacting communities of color.”
Some city council members, including Jose Velasquez and Vanessa Fuentes – who both cover east Austin – have previously raised concerns about the number of patrols in their districts.
Joyce James, an equity consultant who works with organizations across the state – including APD – on addressing racial inequities, said she sees these numbers as more of an example of systemic racism than racial profiling.
“We have to believe there’s something inherent in the design of our systems and institutions that have kept these outcomes in place,” she said.
In an email, APD said, “We are working with our partners at DPS, the county attorney and the district attorney’s office to look at arrest data so that information can be more closely and fully analyzed and reported to the public, and if it indicates a need to pivot operations, we will do so.”
Council members have asked for that demographic data as well, and Mayor Kirk Watson said they’ll have to chance to ask questions directly to DPS during Tuesday’s work session. He issued the following statement about the numbers.
The information released by the County Attorney’s office, while incomplete data, is troubling. Like I’ve said before, this partnership is a continuing collaboration that requires transparency and accountability. I’ve also said that everyone in Austin deserves to be safe and to feel safe, including and without question, if you’re a person of color being stopped by police… While the County Attorney’s data raises important questions, it doesn’t tell the whole story.Mayor Kirk Watson
APD told KXAN it’s working on gathering demographic information on the DPS arrests.
DPS provided updated numbers Friday on DPS traffic stops, arrests and seizures in Austin. The below figures are from March 30 – April 20.
- 9,611 traffic stops
- 242 felony arrests
- 133 misdemeanor arrests
- 51 firearms seized
- 294 pounds of meth seized
- 30 stolen vehicles recovered
- 69 crash investigations
- 39 welfare checks
- 989 APD assists
Additionally, the governor’s office announced DPS special agents seized 507,000 lethal doses of fentanyl in a drug bust. The agency also found 10 rifles, two shotguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, thermal infrared binoculars, three ballistic vests, and one suppressor on the suspects.
KXAN has asked various agencies for further demographic information and will update this story when we receive those numbers.
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA), does not find the demographic breakdown from the county attorney’s office to be an anomaly.
“A larger percentage of Hispanics and blacks live below the poverty level than the percentage of whites that live below the poverty level. The crimes are being committed in the poorer neighborhoods, therefore that is where law enforcement is going to focus their attention and therefore they’re going to have a higher percentage of contact with poor people than they are with affluent people,” he said.
When APD Chief Data Officer Jonathan Kringen, addressed the city council last week, he 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.”