AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of a statewide “street takeover task force” to address a rising trend of destructive and disruptive car demonstrations that have blocked streets in at least Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston in recent weeks.
The governor directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to address the recent street takeovers in several communities. He added the takeovers have become increasingly violent and more frequent.
“These street takeovers put the lives of Texans and Texas law enforcement officers at risk,” DPS Director Steven McCraw said in the release. “We are seeing fireworks fired at officers in crowds, lasers pointed at aircraft, drivers driving upwards of 130 miles per hour with no lights on in the dark of night—all of it is reckless, and it needs to be stopped.”
According to the governor’s office, the newly-launched task force would be led by members of DPS’ Criminal Investigations Division, Texas Highway Patrol, Aviation Operations Division and Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division. These agencies would also be working with local law enforcement agencies statewide.
“The task force will focus on state-level investigations that target the organized crime aspect of the street takeovers with the goal of making arrests and seizing assets, including vehicles and weapons. In many cases, the felony charges associated with these crimes will result in prison time for the criminals responsible,” Abbott said in the release.
On Thursday, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said he was pleased to see Abbott’s state task force announcement.
“These street takeovers, that’s not just an Austin deal. You’re seeing that happen in other parts of the state. I’m glad he did that. It was lawless and wrong and we needed to get to the bottom of it. I think you’ll see additional actions as we go forward. It’s one of the ways the state can help local government and I’m pleased to see they’re doing it,” Watson said.
Police groups welcomed the announcement, worrying local agencies do not have the resources to track and shut down these takeovers. In Austin, more than 20 minutes passed before police arrived on the scene of last weekend’s takeover.
“Every agency is short-staffed, every agency is undermanned, underequipped, even DPS,” Executive Director of the Texas Municipal Police Association Kevin Lawrence said. “The governor offering to provide assistance to local agencies is more important now than it’s ever been.”
Jennifer Szimanski with the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, which advocates on behalf of Austin police officers, said APD no longer has the capabilities to surveil these potential threats.
“We had, at one time, officers who were assigned to actively searching for these types of events on social media and other platforms,” she said. “It could have been detected. And it wasn’t. And that’s because we were defunded. Several of our specialized units were defunded.”
The governor’s office has not yet specified who exactly will serve on the task force or how their operations will be funded.
Some law enforcement hope the rising prevalence of this crime is a “fad” that will fade.
“Your life can change in a heartbeat. All it takes is that one person to do something really stupid, run a red light run, hit a car full of innocent bystanders. And then you have a handful of vehicular homicides that a lot of people are going to be responsible for,” Lawrence said. “It’s just not worth it. Not worth taking those chances.”