Texas Government Uses App to Centralize Reporting of School Safety Threats
The state’s top safety official says the government needs more resources to investigate tips submitted through iWatchTexas, a centralized site for reporting threats.
- By Haley Samsel
- September 27, 2019
An app operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety gives students, parents and educators an outlet to report potential threats to their schools.
iWatchTexas, which was originally launched in 2018 after a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School killed 10 people and injured 10 more, was mentioned at the first meeting of the Texas House Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety last week, The Texas Tribune reported.
Following a mass shooting in El Paso and another deadly highway shooting in Odessa, Gov. Greg Abbott has doubled down on addressing how law enforcement responds to and prevents violence across the state. The iWatchTexas system is part of that initiative, and the DPS director says it needs more resources to prevent mass violence.
“I’m confident we’re going to need more resources, particularly analytical resources,” Director Steven McCraw said at the committee meeting. “Every lead has to be followed up on, we cannot sit on it. It will certainly take resources to do that.”
So far, the state government has kept mum on how exactly reports submitted through the system are analyzed and how many reports have been acted on by public safety officials. Agency officials did not respond to the Tribune’s requests for more information.
But, in public materials distributed by DPS, the state maintains that the centralized iWatchTexas system “ensures that tips from different parts of the community are all integrated in order to link critical data.” The initiative is part of the department’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, the central clearinghouse for the “collection, management, analysis and dissemination” of homeland security intelligence in Texas.
Here’s how it works: Texas residents can fill out a confidential report, with the ability to remain anonymous, that provides information about the threat. Those details could include suspects, victims, witnesses and information about the alleged incident. The system prompts the reporter to answer questions about when and where they observed the threat, giving the option to attach multimedia evidence.
State officials are encouraging residents to look out for strangers asking questions about building security features, comments about killing or harming others, packages that have been left behind and people buying supplies that could be used to make explosives or weapons. Community members should also be aware of unusual chemical smells or people taking photos of security features, including cameras or checkpoints, according to the Tribune.
There are three ways for Texans to file reports: through the iWatchTexas app, on the system’s website or by calling a hotline (844-643-2251). After tips are submitted, officials in the department respond to, investigate or resolve the report. Often, law enforcement and school officials may refer the report to other agencies, including child protective services, mental health services and more.