Texas Department of Public Safety

By: Laurie E. Jasinski

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: August 5, 2020

The Texas Department of Public Safety was established by the Texas legislature on August 10, 1935, to enforce laws to protect public safety and to provide for crime prevention and detection. A three-member Public Safety Commission, appointed by the governor for six-year terms, oversaw the department and in turn named the director and assistant director. Originally department operations were classified into six divisions: the Texas Highway Patrol, Texas Rangers, Bureau of Communications, Bureau of Intelligence, Bureau of Education, and Bureau of Identification and Records. In 1937 the state licensing of drivers was added to the tasks of the department, as was the first narcotics section. The driver-license section expanded in 1941 with the addition of an accident-record section, later evolving into the Statistical Division (1946). By the early 1950s still more driver-related duties were added, with the enactments of the Motor Vehicle Inspection Act and the Safety Responsibility Act. In 1957 the Department of Public Safety underwent a major reorganization, which included consolidation into four major divisions: Identification and Criminal Records, Personnel and Staff Services, Driver and Vehicle Records, and Inspection and Planning. In 1963 the department also became responsible for the State Civil Defense Office (later the Division of Emergency Management), established to aid local governments during times of natural disaster or social upheaval. Through the years the Department of Public Safety continued to reorganize and expand its operations, forming the Criminal Law and the Traffic Law Enforcement divisions in 1968 and the administrative division in 1973, and adding an internal-affairs unit in 1978 and an automated fingerprint-identification system in 1989.

In 1992 the Department of Public Safety consisted of the director's staff and three major divisions: Criminal Law Enforcement, Traffic Law Enforcement, and Administration. The director's staff consisted of a director and an assistant director, an aircraft section, the Internal Audit and Internal Affairs units, and various personnel providing budgetary, publicity, and legal services. In 1991 the Texas Rangers also became part of the director's staff. The Criminal Law Enforcement Division oversaw criminal investigations into such activities as drug trafficking, organized crime, and motor vehicle theft through the efforts of its three services: the Narcotics Service, Criminal Intelligence Service, and Motor Vehicle Theft Service. The Traffic Law Enforcement Division dealt with state traffic laws largely through the highway patrol, but also included among its duties overseeing driver-license matters, vehicle inspection, and public-safety education. The Administrative Division handled statewide communications and driver records, criminal records, and all related data-processing. In the early 1990s the department employed some 5,830 workers in a variety of law-enforcement, technical, and administrative positions. The department is funded by the Texas legislature and had a 1992–93 budget of $212.4 million.

Fifty Years for Texas: 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Department of Public Safety (Austin: Texas Department of Public Safety, 1985). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Law Enforcement Agencies
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Laurie E. Jasinski, “Texas Department of Public Safety,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-department-of-public-safety.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 5, 2020