Austin sees lower police presence and more traffic deaths, City Auditor says

A DPS trooper makes a traffic stop near Oltorf Street and Montopolis Drive.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new report from the Office of the City Auditor with the City of Austin said a reduction in police presence and traffic enforcement coincides with a rise in crash-related deaths over the last few years.

The office released a special report titled ‘Effects of Traffic Patrol on Road Safety’ Thursday. The study analyzed traffic enforcement data from Austin and three peer cities, Dallas, San Antonio, and Seattle, from 2018-2022.

According to the report’s summary, auditors found a steady rise in traffic deaths in all of those cities in that 5-year period. It also noted that this uptick happened alongside vacancies in law enforcement agencies and the shuffling of traffic-enforcement officers to fill open jobs.

More police, fewer crash deaths?

The study said multiple research studies have explored the relationship between police presence and road deaths.

It said “in some studies, when enforcement went up, serious injuries and
deaths went down. In others, when enforcement went down, serious injuries and deaths went up.”

The report said the Austin Police Department has experienced increasing staff vacancies for patrol officers in recent years. This has resulted in Highway Enforcement Command officers being reassigned to cover patrol.

The study said HEC’s units, including DWI, Motors, and Commercial Vehicle and staffing was reduced by 100 officers.

In 2019, DWI had 27 officers, Motors had 48, and Commercial Vehicle had 19. Current staffing shows that DWI has three officers, Motors has two, and Commercial Vehicle has five.

The report said this has reduced the department’s ability to ‘conduct proactive traffic enforcement.’ Since the end of 2019, the study said traffic citations from APD have dropped nearly 70%. It explained that citations can have an impact on crashes and road deaths.

Study explores DPS and APD partnership data

The report also said that earlier this year when the Texas Department of Public Safety was deployed in Austin, there were ‘fewer crashes and deaths as compared to after the deployment ended’.

The study shared data from APD in September 2023. It said during DPS’s six-week deployment this spring, there were 1,951 crashes, 953 injuries and seven deaths.

In the six weeks after, the data showed there were 2,258 crashes, 1,156 injuries and 13 deaths. That’s a 15.7% rise in crashes, 21.3% in injuries and 85.7% in deaths.

The study said these findings are similar to those from across the United States. It cited the International Transport Forum’s Road Safety 2022 Annual Report, which found that in America, there’s been a 16.3% increase in road deaths from pre-pandemic levels.

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