AUSTIN (KXAN) – Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety are harnessing the fame of action star and martial artist Chuck Norris to kick up awareness of the state’s suspicious activity reporting system – iWatch Texas.

Norris, 82, is the face of a public service announcement launched Tuesday to promote iWatch, which allows anyone to submit a suspicious activity tip to law enforcement online, by phone or through an app.

In the new PSA, Norris – best known for his leading role in the ’90’s television series Walker Texas Ranger and his blistering roundhouse kicks – says he loves “bringing bad guys to justice, but law enforcement can’t stop the bad guys if they don’t know who they are.”

The ad campaign will air in television markets across the state beginning Aug. 17, and is available on Youtube.

“Parents, teachers, and students deserve to feel safe and secure returning to school this fall, and who better to help spread the message about the iWatchTexas reporting system than ‘Texas Ranger’ Chuck Norris,” Abbott said in a news release.

Norris tells Texans the iWatch system is for reporting “criminal acts, terror threats or someone wanting to harm children.”

“If you see something,” Norris says, “say something.”

Raising awareness

Following the mass shooting in Uvalde that left 19 elementary schoolers and two teachers dead, DPS and Abbott have tried to increase awareness of iWatch.

In early June, Abbott sent a letter directing the heads of DPS, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to make iWatch better known and easily accessible.

Abbott issued a similar directive after the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart that left 23 people dead, according to his June letter.

Tips sent to iWatch are investigated by local, state and federal law enforcement officials in seven fusion centers located across Texas.

Law enforcement, and defense experts like Fred Burton, have trumpeted iWatch as one of the most effective tools for stopping an attack before it happens. Burton – a former special agent, author and executive director for the ONTIC Center for Protective Intelligence in Austin – told KXAN suspicious activity reports undoubtedly help thwart attacks.

“In order to connect the dots, you have to collect the dots in our business,” Burton said.

Jake Wiener, counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, questions whether promoting the iWatch system will be effective. This type of reporting system, he argues, can become “counter-productive” and even “dangerous” if kids feel like they will be reported to police when they ask for help.

“I think it’s taking the wrong lessons from Uvalde to say people need to be on watch for ‘bad people’ and spend less time taking care of each other,” Wiener said. “If we’re talking about what real community safety looks like, it’s well-funded schools. It’s kids who don’t slip through the cracks.”

The iWatch program was created almost a decade ago. The state added a toll-free number in 2016 and a phone app in 2018. The system also has an option to specifically report “school safety related” concerns.

The number of suspicious activity reports submitted to iWatch has increased over the past four years. Last year, Texas fielded almost 7,700 tips, an increase of more than 59% over the previous year, according to DPS data.

It’s unclear how many of those were credible, resulted in an arrest or stopped an attack. DPS says it does not track that data.