Gov. Greg Abbott sends more state police to patrol Austin after city leaders call for end to partnership
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson had said that troopers pulling a gun on a 10-year-old prompted the end of the agreement. A video of that encounter shows troopers with guns pointed at the ground, not the child.
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Gov. Greg Abbott is sending 30 additional Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to continue patrolling Austin, even though city leaders ended a widely criticized partnership in which state troopers helped local police hampered by staffing shortages.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and interim City Manager Jesús Garza said Wednesday that they had ended the collaboration between the law enforcement entities. But hours later, DPS officials said in a tweet that the agency would continue its services “as part of its responsibility to protect and serve Texas.” The state agency didn’t elaborate further, but the governor came to the troopers’ defense in a tweet late Wednesday night.
“The mission of the Texas Dept. of Public Safety is to serve and protect. Their jurisdiction is every square inch of Texas,” Abbott said.
The additional 30 troopers brings the total number of state police deployed to Austin to 130.
At a press conference Thursday, Watson said that DPS had been patrolling in Austin before the now-suspended partnership was in place and state troopers will remain on the streets in the city. But it’s not clear how, or if, the way DPS continues to patrol Austin will differ from how troopers operated under the agreement, or the ways state police normally patrol in cities across the state.
“DPS has statewide jurisdiction. The partnership was an effort for us to address and to prioritize certain things, including providing certain types of policing in Austin,” Watson said. “They will continue to provide service the way they were before, maybe differently based upon things that they have learned during the course of this, but there will not be a partnership.”
A DPS spokesperson and the governor's office did not respond Thursday to questions about what the continuing patrols will look like.
Abbott and state GOP leaders have targeted Austin in recent years in their efforts to assert dominance over Texas’ largest, more liberal cities. The governor has criticized Austin on its policing before. In February, he started a statewide task force on “street takeovers” after cars and trucks did donuts and burnouts in intersections around the city.
The partnership over policing started as a rare, cordial moment between the city and the state, initiated by a mayor who had campaigned on improving the relationship between local leaders and Texas officials. It’s now spiraled into another battle between local and state control. Watson indicated in a statement on Wednesday that the partnership was not “in sync with Austin values.”
“From the start of this partnership with DPS, I said I wanted Austinites to feel safe and be safe,” Watson said in a statement Wednesday. “Recent events demonstrate we need to suspend the partnership with DPS. The safety of our community is a primary function of City government, and we must keep trying to get it right.”
Earlier this week, a local TV outlet reported that an Austin man and his 10-year-old son accused DPS of pointing a gun at them. Watson on Wednesdaysaid the city withdrew from the partnership because he learned a DPS officer was accused of pulling gun on a child. DPS did not respond to The Texas Tribune’s request for comment Wednesday about Watson’s assertions. At the Thursday press conference, Watson said incidents over the past few days prompted the end to the partnership, but didn’t elaborate on what they were.
“There are a variety,” he said. “I’m not going to go into all the details of everything.”
Also on Thursday, hours after an initial version of this story was published, DPS provided the Tribune with body camera and dash cam footage of the incident with the 10-year-old Watson had previously mentioned. The footage shows a man FOX 7 identified as Carlos Meza pulling his vehicle into his driveway. When his son opened the passenger door to get out of the vehicle, two DPS troopers drew their guns but kept them pointed toward the ground. The videos do not appear to show the troopers point their firearms directly at the child. When Meza opened his door, a trooper drew and pointed their gun at him and yelled at him to get back in the car.
During the traffic stop, the troopers conducted a field sobriety test, which Meza passed, and searched the vehicle. Meza was issued citations for an unregistered motor vehicle, driving without insurance and possession of marijuana, the videos showed.
Watson said at Thursday’s press conference that he’d seen the video, but that it’s not of “any great benefit” to critique the footage or media reports. He reiterated that a number of incidents led to the decision to end the partnership.
“Good government is when you’re willing to attempt things that may be innovative, that haven’t been done, that are subject to criticism, and you work to calibrate and make them better and you’re willing at the appropriate time to say, ‘I’m going to try something else,’” Watson said. “That is a sign of good government, a sign of good leadership.”
DPS had previouslytemporarily paused the partnership in May to send troopers to the border after the end of Title 42.
Staffing challenges had plagued the Austin Police Department when state troopers stepped in. There were more than 300 officer vacancies as of April, and that number is expected to grow with retirements, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon told the City Council. Residents had also criticized the city for slow response times when they made 911 calls. City officials like Watson initially believed the state troopers could help.
But according to April data from the Travis County Attorney’s Office, about 9 out of every 10 people arrested by state troopers were Black or Latino. State and local officials at a May City Council meeting said DPS was largely patrolling predominantly Latino neighborhoods; Austin Police Department leaders said they requested patrolling of those areas because they have the highest crime rates and largest number of 911 emergency calls.
A similar pattern emerged when Abbott sent DPS to Dallas after a spate of homicides four years ago. Weeks into that deployment, residents raised concerns that police were targeting people of color on the city’s south side. The experiment in Dallas ended three months in, after state troopers shot and killed a Black man during a traffic stop.
Alejandro Serrano contributed reporting.
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