After the Austin City Council reduced the police budget by $150 million in 2022, the Austin Police Department is now facing staff shortages that have resulted in rising crime in the city.
This week, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to help the city combat crime and improve safety.
“In Texas, public safety remains our top priority, and we will do whatever it takes to support the brave men and women in law enforcement who protect our communities,” said Abbott. “I welcome the opportunity to work with Mayor Watson and city officials to provide the personnel and resources needed to make Austin safer. Texas has always been—and always will be—a law and order state.”
As of March 23, the city of Austin had already seen 21 homicides. A new phenomenon of street racing takeovers has been seen throughout the city, including one instance where an officer was injured.
In response, a bill has been filed in the Texas Legislature that would make the City of Austin a district controlled by the state.
House Bill 714 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R–Frisco) would move the city of Austin into a state-controlled district overseen by the state Legislature. As of now, the bill is sitting in the State Affairs Committee, where it awaits deliberation.
This is not the first time Abbott has used DPS to supplement local law enforcement.
In 2019, Abbott provided assistance to the Dallas Police Department after a surge of violent crime broke out within the city.
In the new partnership, DPS will provide state troopers and special agents who will focus on violent crime, traffic issues, and providing backup for other emergency situations.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson is enthusiastic about the partnership, saying it is expected to improve police response times, reduce traffic fatalities, and reduce crime throughout the city.
“During my run for mayor, I promised we would make city government work better in providing basic services,” Mayor Kirk Watson said. “This is an example of that. It’s a common-sense, practical response to a serious need and arose out of a positive working relationship between the capital city and the Capitol of Texas. I want to thank Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and DPS Director Steven McCraw for being willing to step in and work with us to ensure the safety of our shared constituents.”
Interim City Manager Jesús Garza and Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon say they have implemented recruitment and retention strategies in an effort to rebuild the department but are thankful DPS is providing additional support to assist the department in the meantime.
“Public safety is at the very core of what we do in city government, and we must get it right,” Garza said. “We’ve moved quickly to address staffing issues—recruit new officers, retain experienced officers, and staff up in our 9-1-1 call centers. But those efforts take time, and we can’t wait to make sure Austinites feel safe.”