The Texas Department of Public Safety is reminding Texans about its iWatchTexas program after a meeting of the Domestic Terrorism Task Force in Austin Tuesday.
The iWatchTexas program is a system that captures information by allowing the public to report suspicious activity.
“Evaluating our state’s public safety vulnerabilities in today’s threat environment is critical to keeping Texas safe from the most unthinkable tragedies,” DPS Director Steve McCraw said in a press release. “Texas is fortunate that the governor and our state leaders place such a high focus on not only responding seamlessly to public safety threats but also doing everything possible to prevent them.”
According to the release, DPS continues to work with law enforcement partners to combat the threat of domestic terrorism and mass attacks in Texas. The public can play an important role in reporting suspicious activity.
“The Hudson Oaks Police Department is 100 percent supportive of any initiatives that will allow for the early detection of potential criminal activity, not only on a local level but statewide,” Hudson Oaks Cpl. Dustin Kennedy said. “With society moving swiftly in the direction of automation and technology assistance, this program will add to the already substantial tool of crime reporting such as the initiative to allow 911 text messaging. The iWatch initiative is another technological advancement that can be utilized for the greater good of our community.”
While the use of the iWatchTexas program can help gather data on suspicious activity, imminent threats should be handled by contacting local law enforcement agencies.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott formed the Domestic Terrorism Task Force in August of 2019, just weeks after the deadly El Paso Walmart mass shooting, according to the Texas Tribune. He tasked the group with analyzing current and emerging state threats to form prevention and response strategies.
DPS submitted a report to Abbott at the meeting, which mainly focused on strengthening law enforcement’s ability to respond to and prevent future mass shootings.
“One of the hard lessons learned after the tragic events on 9/11 were the gaps in information gathering and sharing among the many law enforcement agencies at all levels across the country,” Weatherford Police Chief Lance Arnold said. “I worked for the Norman Police Department at the time and one of the terrorists had actually lived in Norman and had done some flight training there. Programs like iWatchTexas, the Texas Fusion Center, and the Regional Fusion and Intelligence Centers help us close those gaps. However, the gathering, analysis, and sharing of information is only as good as the information coming in to those centers or to law enforcement.”
The most recent shooting occurred at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement where two people were killed before the gunman was halted by armed churchgoers and shot dead by church member Jack Wilson, of Granbury. The attack came two years after the Texas Legislature passed a law that allowed anyone with a concealed carry license to bring their weapon into houses of worship.
North Side Baptist Church Executive Pastor Keith Warren said their security team is always evaluating their efforts on keeping members safe.
“Our church has an extensive network of cameras, which are monitored each time we gather for worship. Any unusual activity is relayed by radio to our security team for evaluation,” Warren said. “We also contract with a security firm to provide a number of Private Protection Officers who are trained and prepared to quickly respond to any threat. Our security team is always evaluating their efforts, and events like this remind us of how important this regular ongoing review is for the safety of our members and guests.”
According to the Texas Tribune, Abbott said during the task force meeting there was discussion about the possibility of pushing legislation that would define what domestic terrorism is at the next session.
“In Parker County, we can’t afford to have the mindset that these types of attacks only occur in the larger cities. Just in Weatherford, we have events that draw a few hundred people all the way up to events like the Parker County Peach Festival that can bring in as many as 60,000 people,” Arnold said. “WPD and our partners do more than anyone will ever see or know to keep the public safe during all of the events around town, but every public safety agencies need people willing to step up to help be our eyes and ears. Citizens must be willing to say something if they see something odd or suspicious, whether it be in person or on social media or even third hand. That information may be the key piece in preventing a tragedy.”
All suspicious activity reports through DPS’ iWatchTexas program are confidential; however, there is an option to provide contact information so officials can follow up with any additional questions, according to the release. The iWatchTexas system can be downloaded as a free application on phones and reports on the system should take less than five minutes to complete.
For more information visit dps.texas.gov.