AUSTIN – As kids kick off the second half of the school year, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) reminds students, parents, teachers and other school administrators that the iWatchTexas program is a critical resource for reporting suspicious activity in schools and communities in order to help prevent dangerous attacks. During the 2020-21 school year, there were no school shootings in Texas. By using the numerous resources available, everyone can continue working to prevent attacks by reporting any potential threats.
These resources include the iWatchTexas program, the Texas School Safety Center and, lastly, the Active Shooter Alert, if an attack is underway.
“School safety is a top priority for DPS, and iWatchTexas makes it easier for people to report anything suspicious that may indicate a potential threat,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “We must remain vigilant to ensure our children and teachers are safe when they head to school. If anyone sees anything suspicious, it is critical for them to report it with this user-friendly tool. It may ultimately save lives.”
The iWatchTexas program is a partnership between communities and law enforcement and uses citizen-sourced tips on suspicious activity to thwart potential criminal acts.
DPS saw three times as many reports made through iWatchTexas in 2021 compared to 2020, as schools began going back to in-person learning. iWatchTexas is a valuable tool for school safety reporting, because it adds important threat information to the Texas School Safety Network. DPS is then able to use all of the available information to provide greater situational awareness and increase sharing between schools and law enforcement agencies, while still protecting the privacy of the student.
In 2021, there were numerous instances in which reports to iWatchTexas resulted in collaboration between local, state and federal law enforcement, school districts, mental health professionals and parents or legal guardians to intervene with at-risk students and prevent possible incidents at schools.
This included an incident in September 2021, when a member of the public saw social media posts involving a teen in San Patricio County and made a report via iWatchTexas. DPS and law enforcement agencies in San Patricio County investigated the posts, which revealed the teen had killed his family and was planning an attack on his school, as well.
Tips can be reported via the website, the free iOS or Android mobile app or by calling 844-643-2251. All reports are confidential. For information on how to use iWatchTexas, you can view this how-to video. Remember, iWatchTexas is not for emergencies. If there is an emergency on a school campus or in a community, call 911 immediately. Also, the program can be used to report suspicious activity in areas other than schools.
In addition to iWatchTexas, the Texas School Safety Center is another useful tool for school security. It’s part of Texas State University and offers valuable resources on school safety for parents and members of the school community. It’s designed to be a central location for research, training and technical information for all school districts, charter schools and community colleges in the state. The Texas School Safety Center has staff experienced in school safety and can provide technical assistance or training, conduct program evaluations or offer resources to schools. Classes are also available online for the community.
Finally, on Sept. 1, 2021, DPS implemented the Active Shooter Alert System. This is not school-specific but could be used in the event of a shooting at or near a school. The newly-implemented alert system is designed to notify people in close proximity to an active shooter situation through cell phones, local broadcast media and Texas Department of Transportation Dynamic Message Signs (DMS), to encourage people to avoid the area or shelter-in-place.
DPS will issue an Active Shooter Alert when an agency submits a request that meets the requirements. Those include an active shooter in the agency’s jurisdiction, determining that the alert would assist people near the active shooter’s location, verification of the active shooter situation through a preliminary investigation by the requesting agency and that the shooter’s last known location is identifiable.
By utilizing these available resources, Texans can work together to keep our schools safe.