AUSTIN (KXAN) — Members from the Texas Department of Public Safety joined the Austin Police Department this month for a meeting with local community leaders.
DPS is working to play a larger role in those gatherings.
“Conversations around the history of policing in Austin, the lack of trust with police, systemic racism, a lot of topics that we discussed, and it was very valuable to listen,” said DPS Major Gabriel Ortiz.
The most recent meeting was primarily with faith-based leaders, as well as representatives from the business community and restorative justice groups.
Reverend Daryl Horton with Mount Zion Baptist Church in East Austin was one of the participants.
“There’s a feeling that’s real for many people about the fear of having DPS here,” he said.
APD has presented statistics showing DPS presence in Austin has led to a reduction in violent crime. The partnership between the two agencies launched in March as a response to APD’s staffing shortage. It involved deploying 80 troopers to patrol Austin streets and 20 agents to work special operations.
The mayor and city manager suspended the partnership in July after a traffic stop involved a man and his young son. Body camera video of that incident contradicted initial reports that came out claiming DPS pointed a gun at a 10-year-old boy.
Following the city’s announcement to end the partnership, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the additional troopers to stay in Austin. He also deployed an additional 30 to patrol within city limits.
The increased patrols drew criticism from several community advocacy groups who said the initiative unfairly targeted communities of color with traffic stops.
“It didn’t help when we had [DPS] here, the reports came out… and it’s leaning on the side that more and more black and brown people are being stopped for this and for that,” Horton said. “[The meetings] give us an opportunity to share the history of why we perceive it the way it is, but I love the fact that we’re coming together to try and find solutions together.”
Pete Inman with Camino Real Financial Strategies also attends these meetings.
“We must continue to sit together, reason together, and humbly seek common ground. Frankly, we’ve got to get to a place in the near future — and I firmly believe we are because of this urgent commitment — where all of our families feel safe,” he said.
During a sit-down interview with APD Chief Joseph Chacon, he explained that while there is no longer an official partnership with DPS, he still communicates with agency leaders consistently.
“Sometimes just checking in to see how things are going on a variety of topics,” he said.
Chacon said he no longer has insight into DPS operations in town now that the partnership has ended.
Regarding the community meetings involving both agencies, he added “It’s our city we want to take care of it we want to know to the greatest degree what’s going on in it, and I think these meetings are a great way to do that.”
Ortiz with DPS said agency members also attended the Austin Safety Summit over the past weekend as an effort to build a stronger relationship with the community – and they plan to do more things like this down the line.
“There’s just a lack of trust with the law enforcement community,” he said. “And so us trying to build that trust with the community, establish legitimacy, I think that’s important for DPS to do.”
Horton said it’s now up to turning the words into actions.
“The only thing we want to know now is to make sure our words are being heard. And the only way we’ll know that is by what we see and how DPS responds and we begin to see the numbers,” he said.