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Everything you need to know about DPS, police pursuits and why troopers shoot at vehicles

Last week, Hidalgo County District Attorney René Guerra asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to temporarily suspend its practice of using airborne snipers to fire at fleeing vehicles. Guerra made the request after DPS trooper Miguel Avila, riding in a helicopter, fired at a pickup truck he thought was carrying a drug shipment. Actually, the truck was full of immigrants suspected of entering the U.S. illegally. Two Guatemalan immigrants were killed.

One of the most difficult and controversial challenges for police officers is chasing a fleeing vehicle. Police are supposed to catch criminals. But a lot can go wrong in a high-speed chase — especially in the deadly cat-and-mouse game DPS troopers play with drug smugglers in Texas border counties.

DPS Director Mike McCraw has asked the FBI to investigate the shooting. But there are already resources available to the public that show why an incident like this near the border was probably bound to happen.

Smugglers recovering drugs from the Rio Grande River
Smugglers recovering drugs from the Rio Grande River (Source: Texas DPS)
Two years ago, we found and wrote about a little-known resource: A DPS database that keeps track of every vehicle pursuit troopers are involved in. The database is available to the public through the state’s open-records law, and I teamed up with Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune to get a copy of the data and analyze it.

We received data for nearly 5,000 chases that occurred from January 2005 to July 2010. The database was packed with details about every DPS pursuit in Texas, showing factors like how each chase started, how it ended, and how many people were injured or killed.

One thing that jumped out at us was the high number of pursuits in Hidalgo County on the Mexican border. Between 2005 and July 2010, troopers in other Texas counties chased vehicles, on average, about 20 times. In Hidalgo County, DPS troopers chased vehicles about 30 times more often — 656 pursuits. That’s far and away the most in Texas:

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Attorney General Greg Abbott sues the Texas Highway Patrol Museum in San Antonio

The Texas attorney general’s office announced yesterday that it has sued the Texas Highway Patrol Museum, a nonprofit telemarketing organization based in San Antonio that raises millions of dollars in the name of helping state troopers. I had always been curious about the museum, which is housed in a brick building at St. Mary’s and … Read more

Texas Week’s Rick Casey focuses on the Texas Highway Patrol Museum

Many thanks to Rick Casey, Bruce Kates, and the staff at KLRN’s Texas Week for having me on their show to talk about the Texas Highway Patrol Museum and its little-known purpose as a telemarketing operation. Check out our past news coverage of the museum, which is actually a telemarketing operation that spends only a … Read more

Texas Highway Patrol Museum raises millions — but spends little money on DPS troopers

The Texas Highway Patrol Museum sits on a prime piece of property near downtown San Antonio, across the street from Rosario’s Café y Cantina. Business is booming at Rosario’s, but not so much at the museum. It usually looks empty every time I drive by or hang out in King William. I’ve been kind of … Read more

Ambush in Atascosa — 10 Years Later

Vianna Davila wrote this story about the 10th anniversary of a deadly ambush that killed two deputies and a state trooper in Atascosa County. But I thought her video was especially well done. Without sensationalizing the tragedy, it lays out what happened in a straightforward, sober tone, told in the words of a deputy who … Read more