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A month into Austin patrols, state police are disproportionately arresting people of color

A state trooper SUV pulled behind a car in a parking lot with a trooper talking through the car window to the driver
Michael Minasi
A state trooper performs a traffic stop off East Riverside Drive last week. Texas Department of Transportation has made a deal with the Austin Police Department to help with patrols.

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New data from the Travis County Attorney's office shows Black and Latino people have been disproportionately arrested by state police in the last few weeks.

The data provides a look into the first few weeks of the Austin Police Department's partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety — and raises concerns about racial profiling.

A look at misdemeanor arrests from March 30 to April 22 shows state troopers arrested 108 Latinos and 38 Black people, compared to six white people. The arrest numbers were first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

For context, white Austinites comprise 48% of the city's population, while Latinos account for a third and Black residents make up 7.7%. Roughly 8% of Austin's population is Asian American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Shortly after it was announced, APD said the partnership led to a statistically significant drop in violent crime compared to this time last year. It's important to note these numbers are for misdemeanor arrests — not felonies — and they don't provide the location of arrests.

Still, the numbers have raised concerns about the Austin Police Department's deal for troopers to help patrol in light of a staffing crisis.

The agreement was cemented seemingly overnight by Austin Mayor Kirk Watson late last month — without approval, input or oversight from the Austin City Council. Council members Vanessa Fuentes and Chito Vela expressed concern about the data.

"The numbers only confirm what we already suspected: the DPS operation is disproportionately harming communities of color," Fuentes tweeted Thursday, adding that she planned to raise her concerns at City Council's work session Tuesday.

Vela echoed that sentiment, saying a preliminary look didn't represent an "equitable" policing strategy and that the numbers "do not align with our values."

Vela, Fuentes and other council members expressed hope that troopers wouldn't target communities of color.

APD's most recent report on racial profiling showed Black drivers represented 15% of the department's traffic stops. White drivers were slightly less likely to be pulled over compared to their share of the population, and Latino drivers slightly more likely.

APD has said the DPS patrols are guided by 911 calls and are subject to change.

Criminal justice advocates have warned state police could take a harder line on enforcing laws, specifically for low-level offenses like marijuana possession. For years, APD has not pursued possession charges for amounts below 4 ounces, but DPS could.

In a statement, APD Chief Joseph Chacon said he "neither condones nor tolerates" racial profiling and said that he wants residents to go "about their daily lives without the worries and concerns that over-policing can bring."

"We can and will strike that important balance," he said, "and I am confident we can work with our law enforcement partners to do so."

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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