The Austin Police Department has encountered staffing challenges for the past few years, with officers quitting and retiring in droves. The department stopped making arrests as it could not keep up with crimes and emergencies. With more than 300 vacancies, the situation in the department got so bad that 911 calls were redirected to non-emergency lines.
That changed in March when the Austin Police Department partnered with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). The goal was for the DPS to respond to emergency calls and deal with traffic incidents. However, the partnership has turned controversial. It looks as though the DPS has pretty much taken over, making hundreds of arrests in just a short time.
In one case, the DPS even arrested a couple of its own employees. This happened in August when two insiders were accused of taking cash in exchange for helping businesses conduct fake vehicle emissions tests.
The DPS began its partnership with an impressive start, making dozens of arrests in the first week alone. DPS troopers made a whopping 1,570 traffic stops in the Austin area. From March 30 to April 3, the DPS wrote 765 tickets and seized various drugs, including 127,415 grams of methamphetamine, 174 grams of cocaine, and 40 grams of heroin. There were 31 misdemeanor arrests and 52 felony arrests.
This year, DPS issued the most charges for DWI, with 388 total. The next highest charge was possession of marijuana of under 2 ounces, with 300 charges issued. These numbers were under 100 last year, so arrests have more than tripled.
While these arrests may seem like a good thing, they are causing problems for the court system. The large number of arrests has created a backlog. The nonviolent arrests pull prosecutors away from violent types of crimes. The additional workload slows down the process for all cases. Records show that there are 647 DPS cases still pending with prosecutors. Prosecutors have reviewed and declined 308 other cases.
But this begs the question: why aren’t Austin police officers doing their job in the first place? It all started in 2020 after the city council voted to defund police officers by $150 million. After the protests over the death of George Floyd, the police department’s budget was slashed by more than 30%. Also, several cadet classes were taken away, and 150 officers were cut from the budget.
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