AUSTIN (KXAN) – Gov. Greg Abbott called on state law enforcement and education leaders Tuesday to push for expanded use of the iWatchTexas tool, a one-stop-shop for reporting suspicious activity across the state.
In a letter sent Tuesday, Abbott told Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Harrison Keller to “enhance and expedite” their efforts to publicize the iWatchTexas system and make reporting suspicious activity easier.
Suspicious activity reports can be made to iWatchTexas online, through a smartphone app, or by phone.
“Reporting concerning behavior is a key component of intervention strategies to keep schools safe, and it is only through our joint efforts that we will succeed,” Abbott said in the letter.
Abbott’s latest push to broaden the use of suspicious activity reports and iWatchTexas comes two weeks after an 18-year-old gunman murdered 19 fourth graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. It was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
In his letter, Abbott referenced the U.S. Secret Service’s Mass Attacks in Public Spaces report from 2019, which recommended reporting alarming behavior “to the appropriate authorities so that interventions may occur before a mass attack is carried out.”
State officials rolled out the iWatchTexas reporting system in 2013 and added a phone line to it in 2016. A mobile app was introduced in 2018, and an option to specifically report school-safety concerns was later launched.
iWatchTexas is part of the state’s Suspicious Activity Reporting Network overseen by DPS.
KXAN reported on the tips made to the network in the years leading up to 2019, in our investigation A History of Mass Violence. That year, there was an increase in the number of reports made to the system.
In late May, KXAN asked Abbott’s office if it could provide updated numbers of suspicious activity reports submitted to the state since 2019. An Abbott spokesperson recommended asking DPS, which did not respond to our questions.
KXAN has formally requested updated data from DPS showing how many reports have been made to the system each of the past three years and how many tips resulted in leads and arrests. We will report that information when it becomes available.
Abbott also directed McCraw, Morath and Keller to work with the state’s eight fusion centers to teach “students, staff, and families about Texas’s suspicious activity reporting program, known as iWatchTexas.” Fusion Centers are law enforcement offices where local, state and federal police work together and share information to help vet suspicious activity reports and respond to disasters.
A spokesperson for the Higher Education Board acknowledged receiving Abbott’s letter and said the agency is “committed to working closely with the Governor’s Office and our state agency partners to promote safe and prosperous environments across all Texas institutions and campuses,” according to an email.
In 2019, following a mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, Abbott issued an executive order directing DPS, TEA and THECB to find better ways to promote suspicious activity reporting. The order also called for increased staffing at the state’s fusion centers. Abbott said 12 analyst positions were added statewide, and the effort has helped stop “acts of mass violence, including at least one school shooting.”