AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Texas Department of Public Safety report obtained by KXAN outlines the more than 17,000 traffic stops and nearly 700 arrests DPS made in Travis County between March 30 and May 6.
The data outlines 577 were from traffic stops and 98 from special operations in the five-week time period.
On March 30, DPS began the Austin Violent Crimes Task Force (ACVTF) project to assist Austin Police (APD) with crime-curbing efforts amid an APD staffing shortage.
The program is currently on pause as troopers assist with border-protection efforts, but is expected to return. Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the partnership has been instrumental in curbing violent crime and traffic stops — and freeing up APD officers to respond to emergency calls more quickly.
KXAN received two sets of traffic stop arrest data, each of which provided different levels of detail.
Looking through a set of nearly 300 trooper arrests, the majority of arrests were for possession of marijuana less than 2 ounces. In about 70% of those cases, people also had more serious violations or warrants out for their arrests.
So in about 30% of those cases, marijuana possession was the only charge.
“We haven’t had a Class B marijuana charge since around the time COVID started,” said defense attorney Benjamin Gergen. “And now we’ve seen 5-10 in the last month alone. And again, those are cases where we’re basically guaranteeing a client we’re gonna get a dismissal.”
Other arrests resulting from traffic stops in that data set include the following:
- Driving without a valid license
- Unlawful carrying of a weapon
- Evading Arrest
- Possession of controlled substances
- Resisting arrest
- Unauthorized use of a vehicle
- Criminal mischief
- Existing warrants for assault, weapons and drug charges
For the roughly 300 additional arrests, troopers used a different reporting system that did not provide as specific violations information as the set we used to reference the marijuana arrests. For example, it listed a type of arrest as “drug,” but didn’t specify the kind.
APD has repeatedly said DPS’ efforts have helped deter and reduce violent crime.
We reached out to DPS for the agency’s response to the data, as well as for clarification on certain parts of the report. We have not yet heard back. The agency did tell us additional traffic stops and arrests were made during this time period that may not have been reflected in the report we received.
The report listed a total of 17,494 traffic stops. The demographic breakdown of people pulled over is below:
- 54% Hispanic or Latino
- 26% White
- 15% Black
- 5% Asian/Pacific Islander
- .3% American Indian/Alaskan
By comparison, below is the latest census data for Austin’s demographics breakdown:
- 33% Hispanic or Latino
- 66% White
- 8% Black
- 8.2% Asian
- .8% American Indian/Alaskan
These numbers don’t add up to 100% because people can report more than one race on the U.S. Census. The census notes “Hispanics can be any race, so also are included in applicable race categories.”
APD deployed DPS to certain areas of town based on a data-driven approach tracking 911 calls for violent crimes.
Critics of DPS’ presence in town — which include community leaders and some City Council members and Austin residents — worried this racially targeted certain neighborhoods.
“Instead of going out and addressing real hard crimes, assaults, murder, rapes… the real issues that we think need to be looked at,” said Montopolis Neighborhood President Susana Almanza last month. “Why spend that much time combing through the neighborhood seeing who has an inspection sticker, who has insurance, who doesn’t?”
Some supporters — like the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) – don’t find the demographics data alarming.
“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,” TMPA Executive Director Kevin Lawrence previously told KXAN.
As part of the partnership, 80 troopers patrolled in Austin — and 20 special agents worked more intensive investigations.
According to the data we received, that aspect of the AVCTF resulted in 98 arrests for crimes included sexual abuse, aggravated assault, robbery and weapons violations.
Defense attorney Gergen said when DPS was patrolling — his clients were very well aware of the increased law enforcement presence.
“The term we keep hearing over and over is that ‘the streets are hot,'” he said. “And from a public safety standpoint, that’s probably a good thing.”
KXAN is still sorting through the data, which includes additional demographics, whether people were cited or given warnings, and more detail on special operations’ arrests. We will continue to update this story as we learn more.