With his state reeling from two mass shootings in recent weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday issued eight executive orders designed to improve law enforcement's response to reports of suspicious activity about potential shooters.
Abbott characterized the orders as a starting point in efforts to improve safety and said he will release a report next week on recommendations from two roundtable discussions held in the wake of the El Paso shootings.
Those recommendations, Abbott said, will include ideas to "jump start" action by the Legislature, where two newly formed committees will begin exploring issues related to gun violence later this month.
"Texas must achieve several objectives to better protect our communities and our residents from mass shootings," he said. "One of those objectives is to marshal law enforcement resources to stop violent criminals before they commit mass murders. But more must be done."
Abbott, who has been getting pushback from gun-rights advocates in his own party, acknowledged that he is walking a difficult path between those seeking limits on easy access to firearms and those who see guns as a God-given right that should face little or no limits from government.
"I will continue to work expeditiously with the Legislature on laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, while safeguarding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans," he said.
Abbott ordered state agencies to take eight actions:
• The Texas Department of Public Safety was given 30 days to develop standardized intake questions for use by all Texas law enforcement agencies to better identify whether a tip should be reported to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.
The network, which also can be reached by civilians through the iwatchtx.org website, includes a team that analyzes reports for further action.
• DPS also was given 30 days to develop clear guidance for when and how Texas law enforcement agencies should submit suspicious activity reports.
• The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement was given 60 days to begin making training available for all law officers on standards developed by DPS on suspicious activity reports.
• To increase reporting of potential threats, DPS was directed to create a public awareness campaign about how officers use suspicious activity reports to identify potential mass shooters and terrorists.
• DPS also was ordered to work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on ways to better inform schools, students and staff about the importance of reporting suspicious activity.
• DPS was ordered to work with local law agencies, mental health professionals and school districts to create regional "multidisciplinary threat assessment teams."
• DPS and the governor's office will work to increase staffing at fusion centers — regional collections of federal, state and local law enforcement that examine security threats — to improve the response to reports of suspicious activity and monitor social media for potential threats.
• To improve background checks before a firearms purchase, beginning Jan. 1, counties can qualify for grants awarded by the governor's office only if they agree to report at least 90 percent of criminal convictions to DPS and the Criminal Justice Information System within seven business days.
On Jan. 1, 2021, that reporting will have to take place within five business days.
Abbott noted that after the most recent mass shootings, the mother of the El Paso gunman had contacted law enforcement to express concerns about his ownership of the gun used in the shooting. And in Odessa, the shooter called local and federal authorities before killing seven in a two-city shooting spree.
The goal, the governor said, is to close information gaps when suspicions about a mass shooter arise.
This is a developing story.