Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t heeded calls from many lawmakers for a special session of the Texas Legislature to address gun violence in the wake of the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Midland/Odessa. However, on Thursday he did issue eight executive orders focusing on the reporting of “suspicious activity” and the coordination of reporting between the Department of Public Safety and other officials. Two of the orders specifically addressed our public schools:
- The Department of Public Safety shall work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on ways to better inform schools, students, staff, and families about the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports and how to initiate that process.
- The Department of Public Safety shall work with local law enforcement, mental-health professionals, school districts, and others to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions, and when appropriate shall coordinate with federal partners.
Abbott previously appointed a Texas Safety Commission to develop an “action plan” to address gun violence and he also appointed interim legislative committees in the Texas House and Senate to look at possible legislation. The American Federation of Teachers has long had a comprehensive resolution for “Gun Violence Prevention and School Safety” and additional recommendations. The other executive orders from Abbott included:
- Within thirty days of this order, the Texas Department of Public Safety shall develop standardized intake questions that can be used by all Texas law-enforcement agencies to better identify whether a person calling the agency has information that should be reported to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.
- Within thirty days of this order, the Department of Public Safety shall develop clear guidance, based on the appropriate legal standard, for when and how Texas law-enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious Activity Reports.
- Within sixty days of this order, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement shall make training available to educate all law-enforcement officers regarding the standards that will be developed pursuant to Order No. 1 and Order No. 2.
- The Department of Public Safety shall create and conduct an initiative to raise public awareness and understanding of how Suspicious Activity Reports are used by law-enforcement agencies to identify potential mass shooters or terroristic threats, so that the general public and friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates will be more likely to report information about potential gunmen.
- The Department of Public Safety, as well as the Office of the Governor, shall use all available resources to increase staff at all fusion centers in Texas for the purpose of better collecting and responding to Suspicious Activity Reports, and better monitoring and analyzing social media and other online forums, for potential threats.
- Beginning January 1, 2020, all future grant awards from the Office of the Governor to counties shall require a commitment that the county will report at least 90 percent of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety. By January 1, 2021, such reporting must take place within five business days.