It has been a few weeks since the Independent published and so there’s a lot of catching up to do. One thing that happened is that the Austin Police Department (APD) partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is back on, as of July 2. The initial stage of the partnership immediately drove down violent crime rates and also led to a decrease in the number of calls for “emergency assistance;” and correspondingly there was an overall decrease in police response time when there were calls. But, the strategy of massing DPS officers in the areas with the most calls about violent crime and the most traffic accidents led to a heavy police concentration in the Eastern Crescent. The presence was particularly intense in Montopolis, but also in other parts of East Austin and the Rundberg area as well.
A few weeks into the partnership, County Attorney Delia Garza released early numbers for misdemeanor arrests that showed misdemeanor arrests were overwhelmingly of people of color. City officials responded back that those numbers don’t tell the whole story, including pointing out that a large percentage of the people in the numbers Garza released had warrants out for their arrest. Police officers are required to make an arrest when they encounter someone who has a warrant.
City officials have also expressed frustration in getting further numbers from Delia Garza and District Attorney Jose Garza. They, however, said they got the message about the over presence in the Eastern Crescent and will deploy differently this time, while still concentrating on high crime areas.
Now, here’s a tip for the DPS from someone who has been driving the streets of Austin for a long time. There are plenty of reckless, speeding, tail-gating, red light running white drivers out there who are a menace to safety on Austin streets. So fan out and catch some of them.
So, that’s a brief update, but our main topic today is the way much of the media is covering the DPS partnership. I am talking particularly about the print media. And, of course Austin’s leading print organ is still the Austin American-Statesman despite it only being a shadow of its once sometimes adequate self.
I will have more on this topic as we go along, but today I am going to concentrate on one story about the single public hearing that the Council (not the whole Council, but the Council’s Public Safety Committee) had on the DPS partnership. That was on May 22.
Yes, I know that’s a long time ago, but, nonetheless, I believe this story is just as relevant now. That’s mainly because the Statesman still hasn’t reported the information that I am going to relate below — nor has anyone else to my knowledge. I think folks will see that the public hearing in question was an entirely different event than what the Statesman reported. I did take so long, however, that the reporter who wrote the article I am critiquing, Luz Moreno-Lozano, left the Statesman and landed on the KUT news team.
The News That Doesn’t Fit Into the American-Statesman
The Statesman story in question ran on May 23, headlined: “Faith leaders join in fight for more transperancy regarding Austin police-DPS partnership.” Luz Moreno-Lozano’s lead was, “Members of Austin’s faith community, and many other residents leaned on Austin city officials Monday as they called upon its leaders for greater transparency and accountability with the city’s partnership with the Texas Department of Public Safety.”
The problems with the article begin there. The headline, lead, and entire story make it sound like the hearing was dominated by “faith leaders.” In reality, 30 people spoke at the hearing and only three of them — three speakers early in the hearing — expressed any religious affiliation.
Second, the story misrepresented the breadth of what “faith leaders” told the Council by quoting only two sentences from one preacher. Left out were comments “faith leaders” made about increased crime, decreased public safety, and understaffing at APD.
Third, by lumping “many other residents” in with the faith leaders, and their call “for greater transparency and accountability,” the article misrepresented what those “many other residents” actually said. That included neglecting to report that anyone at the hearing spoke in favor of the APD-DPS partnership. Actually, half the speakers (15) stated directly that they favored the partnership. Another six did not mention DPS specifically, but clearly stated that they favor more police presence. Nine speakers opposed the partnership.
Among those getting no mention were a string of Asian American speakers, most of Indian descent, who called for more policing, expressed concerns about violence against Asian Americans, and said they often live in fear.
The article also failed to mention any of a forty-five minute string of speakers who supported the partnership and gave various insights into the complexity of Austin’s public safety challenges.
This included the owner of a car lot who described how a salesman, “a 60-year-old Black man,” was shot “two times in the back of the head at point blank range” and “killed instantly” by two criminals pretending to be shopping for a car. He said APD officers arrived quickly, and “put their lives on the line to arrest them,” adding, “If these officers had been a minute later, these individuals would be free on the streets committing heinous crimes.”
Another speaker, representing local convenience stores said, “Many of our retailer locations have experienced threatening, frightening types of situations. . . Several of them are struggling to retain their employees they have because they don’t feel safe. Many have experienced people coming in and taking what they want and just walking out. Some have been quoted to say when they were asked to pay for the goods, ‘Call the police. They aren’t going to come anyway.’”
Moreno-Lozano also left out significant information from the staff report section of the meeting. Most of that had to do with her second paragraph, “The partnership, which began March 30, has been highly criticized after data revealed nearly 9 of 10 arrested by the task force are people of color.” Those are the numbers for initial misdemeanor arrests released to the media by County Attorney Delia Garza in April.
Moreno-Lozano did note that City officials have acknowledged those numbers as a serious issue, and are trying to adjust going forward. She did not mention, however, that Police Chief Joseph Chacon and other City officials maintain that those numbers don’t paint the complete picture, or that they had been unsuccessful in obtaining further information from the County Attorney and District Attorney.
The reporter also chose not to mention a related point stressed by APD statistician Jonathan Kringen. He said that 94 of the first 104 arrests (the number of arrests the City had information on) were because there was a warrant on the person. Kringen pointed out that law enforcement officers are required to arrest someone if there is a warrant for their arrest. He later explained to the Independent that it is possible that some of the arrestees may have had more than one warrant, although he added judges tend to lump charges together into one warrant.
Same Word Count, More Information
So there are some of the major omissions that Moreno-Lozano, or her editors, left out of her article about the public hearing before the Council’s Public Safety Committee. Please read her article and see if you think I am incorrect, but to me it seems like an entirely different hearing than what actually occurred.
Some might say: but, Daryl her space was limited. I considered that and so everything I wrote above, in the section about her article (not including my prologue) was done in the same number of words that she used, 681. And, 76 of my 681 words were direct quotes from her Statesman article. I would submit that this shows it is possible to fit that much information into that short a space. (Now if I could just get my prologues down to a shorter length.)
At the same time I would argue that the Statesman should allow more space for such important local issues. In that spirit I am going to publish a Part 2 shortly, which will provide a deeper account of the hearing; along with some further analysis of what the Statesman left out.
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