TEXAS, USA — The number of traffic stops by the Texas Highway Patrol has plummeted while fatal crashes have spiked over the past three years, according to a KHOU 11 Investigates analysis of state records.
“The first line of defense is the visibility of law enforcement,” said Julio Zaghi, Texas victim services director for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. “If there’s no visibility and there’s no consequences for your actions, you’re going to continue doing the behavior."
In 2019, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers made 2,716,360 traffic stops in which a citation or warning was issued, according to DPS data KHOU 11 Investigates obtained through an open records request. Those numbers took a nosedive in 2021—down to 1,239,744 traffic stops—a 54% drop.
“If we’re not stopping anybody, and we’re not enforcing those laws, people are going to think ‘I can do whatever I want,’” Zaghi said.
He said that can mean driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or speeding, the two biggest contributing factors for deadly crashes, according to Texas Department of Transportation crash data.
The downward trend in traffic stops comes with an uptick in crash fatalities. In 2019, there were 3,361 fatal crashes statewide. In 2021, that number rose by 22% to 4,116 fatal wrecks across Texas.
“That’s a huge jump,” said Greg Fremin, a retired Houston Police captain who now teaches at Sam Houston State University’s College of Criminal Justice. “I’ve spoken to many of colleagues that are out there that are DPS troopers and also ranking supervisors in the field. The number one driving factor on these numbers is the border crisis, of what we see happening down at our southern border,” he said.
A total of 1,037 trooper positions were permanently assigned to the border, according to a DPS December 2021 security briefing document.
“When you remove these troopers from their area of responsibility that they were once doing on the freeways, you’re creating a void of manpower in that area,” Fremin said.
In the Houston area, the correlation between traffic stops and fatal crashes is even more pronounced, according to the state data. Along US 59, there was a 48% reduction in DPS traffic stops with a 110% increase in fatal wrecks from 2019 to 2021.
On Highway 6, traffic stops dropped by 71% while fatal collisions rose by 131% over the same three years. And on Highway 290, data show a 54% traffic stop reduction with a 375% increase in deadly crashes.
“I don’t want to politicize this and I’m going to take politics out, it’s a public safety issue,” Freeman said. “It’s a simple mathematical equation of case and effect—accidents are going to increase along with fatalities.”
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety declined to comment on the findings.
Governor Greg Abbott’s press office did not address the numbers either but rather touted the number of drugs and weapons seized and migrants arrested under Operation Lone Star.
“While still maintaining duties across the state to keep Texans safe, Texas National guard and DPS have been working around the clock to protect our state from the historic levels of deadly drugs like fentanyl, criminals and terrorists surging across the southern border,” Press Secretary Renae Eze said in a statement.