TEXAS VIEW: Texas DPS needs to rein in high-speed chases through border towns

THE POINT: New study showing rise in deaths and injuries should prompt policy review.

An alarming increase in the number of deadly high-speed chases by Texas law enforcement since the beginning of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star program should warrant some attention in Austin.

Human Rights Watch, in a study published last week, found that not only have more of these dangerous chases happened along border communities since the program was launched, but the number of chases ending in death or injury to drivers, passengers and innocent bystanders has also spiked.

After reviewing Texas Department of Safety data obtained through records requests between March 2021 and July 2023, the nonprofit found at least 74 people were killed, including a 7-year-old girl, and another 189 were injured as a result of vehicle pursuits. That’s a 45% increase from before the border protection program began.

The DPS should review its policies on high-speed chases and determine if it’s time to implement restrictions on when its state troopers engage in them, a practice other agencies have implemented nationwide.

DPS officials have said they leave the decision of when to start and end a high-speed chase to the discretion of troopers working in the heat of the moment. DPS director Col. Steve McCraw recently told The New York Times that without the chases, “All you’re doing is rewarding the Mexican cartels.”

But with the chases, people are dying. Earlier this month, eight people died when a car believed to be carrying undocumented migrants crashed into another vehicle during a high speed chase in Zavala County.

The nonprofit found that of the roughly 5,200 vehicle pursuits DPS troopers engaged in statewide during the study period, 3,600 of them occurred in the 60 counties covered by Operation Lone Star. About 81% of those chases began because of a traffic violation, and the average speed was 91 mph. A third of them surpassed 100 mph.

Not surprisingly, the group also found a sharp increase in the amount of property damage caused by chases. Texas Public Radio recently reported that residents in El Paso County and other border communities who endure regular chases through their neighborhoods fear not only for their lives, but also for their homes and businesses.

We don’t support the end goal of Human Rights Watch, which is to see Operation Lone Star abolished. Texas has a border crisis and the governor and law enforcement have been left to deal with the failure of the federal government to secure the border and pass meaningful immigration reform.

But we do think that DPS should reconsider its high-speed chase policy. Social media posts depicting television-like chases ending in the bad guys being cuffed and taken away to face justice aren’t telling the whole story.

Too many people are being killed and injured, and too many other people are facing significant property loss, for the problem to be ignored.

The Dallas Morning News