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A contentious, short-lived partnership in which the Texas Department of Public Safety helped Austin police patrol city streets is being paused so state troopers can assist border cities facing the expiration of a federal order that quickly expelled migrants coming into the country.
The emergency public health order known as Title 42 ended late Thursday night, but has not yet resulted in a “major influx” of migrants according to Biden administration officials.
Still, state troopers will be sent south, according to an Austin police statement first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.
“APD was informed Friday that due to the expiration of Title 42 and the related issues at the border, Texas DPS is being deployed heavily in border cities,” the Austin Police Department said in a statement.
At the request of Mayor Kirk Watson, Gov. Greg Abbott directed DPS to come to the capital to help address Austin’s short police staffing and long response times to 911 calls in late March. Weeks after the APD and DPS joined forces, statistics released by local officials revealed almost 90% of people arrested by state troopers were Black or Latino.
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon said Saturday would be the last day DPS would operate in Austin under the partnership, just over six weeks after it was announced. He said it wasn’t known when DPS would return to Austin, “but it will not be for several weeks at least.”
Immigration agents used Title 42, a pandemic-era policy invoked over three years ago by former President Donald Trump, to send migrants back to Mexico. Ahead of the Title 42’s expiration, Abbott sent hundreds of Texas National Guard soldiers to the southern border to prepare for the large groups of migrants expected to enter the United States. The chaotic end to Title 42 anticipated by federal, state and border officials failed to materialize Thursday. Also this week, Abbott also sent two more buses of migrants to Washington, D.C., continuing his practice of transporting thousands of people to Democrat-led cities to draw attention to the record number of border crossings.
Some Austin residents and leaders have criticized DPS’s presence in the capital from the outset, which was planned without input from the public or city council members.
When the Travis County Attorney’s Office released statistics at the end of April revealing stark racial disparities in misdemeanor charges issued by DPS, criticism of the partnership mounted. Nearly nine out of 10 of those arrested were Black or Latino.
State and local officials said on May 2 that DPS has largely been patrolling predominantly Latino neighborhoods at the request of Austin police whose leaders said the areas were chosen because they have the highest crime rates and largest number of 911 emergency calls.
“The supplemental staffing has shown really real results in faster response times for assistance and decrease in violent crime,” Watson said at a City Council discussion on May 2. “The traffic enforcement, however, has been troubling. If there have been unintended or unwanted consequences, we must address them immediately. We want to ensure Ausitinites don’t feel racially profiled.”
A similar pattern emerged when Abbott sent DPS to Dallas after a spate of homicides four years ago. Many Black and Latino residents felt harassed by state troopers and the three month experiment ended shortly after state troopers shot and killed a Black man who was holding a handgun after the officer pulled him over for failing to use a turn signal.
Neither DPS nor Abbott’s office immediately returned a request for comment Saturday.
In addition to increasing the presence of state law enforcement in southern Texas cities, the Legislature is poised to pass a sweeping border funding bill during a legislative session that ends May 29. On Wednesday the House approved a bill with bipartisan support that would create a new state border policing unit and send nearly $100 million to border communities for new detention centers, courts, border security, higher education and economic development projects.
An earlier version of House Bill 7 would have created a “Border Protection Unit” that would have let civilians arrest or detain people. Immigration advocates criticized that proposal, saying it would increase the potential for human rights violations. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week changed the bill, adding a requirement that the unit use only commissioned peace offers for enforcement actions.
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