PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Governor Greg Abbott issued eight executive orders following two deadly mass shootings in Texas in the past month.
The executive orders address police procedures, communication with local law enforcement and schools, and mental health in the state. But they do not include any measures on gun control.
"I will continue to work expeditiously with the legislature on laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, while safeguarding the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans,” Gov. Abbott said in a news release.
The bulk of the executive orders change protocols for police when dealing with threats being reported.
Executive Order No. 1 calls for a standardized intake questions that police across the state can use to better identify if information should be reported to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.
Executive Order No. 2 gives the Department of Public Safety 30 days to come up with clear guidance for when and how Texas law-enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious activity reports.
Executive Order No. 3 allows 60 days for the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement to make training available to educate officers on the standards developed in orders 1 and 2.
Executive Order No. 4 calls on DPS to create and conduct an initiative to increase public awareness and understanding of how suspicious activity reports are used to identify potential mass shooters, or terroistic threats.
Executive Order No. 5 calls for DPS to work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Board on ways to inform schools about suspicious activity reports, and how to initiate the process.
Executive Order No. 6 brings DPS, local law enforcement, mental-health professionals, school districts, and others together to build multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each region.
Executive Order No. 7 calls for DPS and the Office of the Governor to use all available resources and increase staff at fusion centers to help improve collecting and responding to suspicious activity reports, and monitor potential online threats.
Executive Order No. 8 states that beginning in January 2020, all grants awarded by the Office of the Governor to counties will require a commitment that the county will report at least 90% of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety, and five business days by January 2021.
Thursday, Port Arthur Detective Michael Hebert and Deputy Police Chief John Owens walked through what the orders could mean, and what they're currently doing.
"I think any effort by the Governor's office is a plus," Hebert said, "We've never had a mass causality shooting like this and I hope to God we never do."
Hebert said really what the Governor's orders are saying is, if you see something say something. It's something PAPD has been preaching, as well as Crime Stoppers. Hebert said Crime Stoppers is a force to be reckoned with in Southeast Texas, and a huge asset.
PAPD uses Task Force Officers (TFOs). Hebert said they often sit in shift meetings and discuss potential threats they've gotten from DPS. This information is passed on to investigators, patrol officers, and the TFOs, who could be U.S. Marshals, FBI, DEA, etc.
"It's all about networking, and it's all about keeping those communication lines open," Hebert said.
Hebert said the community is great at submitting tips, whether it be through a phone call, crime stoppers, even Facebook messages. Reports of suspicious activity come in on a daily basis.
"The majority of our arrests from felons, come from tips, they come from our own citizens," Hebert said.
As for order 2, Hebert said it will be a wait and see kind of deal with what the Governor is wanting. He said they take in information, and it's funneled to the proper division depending on what type of information it is.
Hebert believes the people of Port Arthur know what to look for in terms of suspicious activity, but mass shooters can be unpredictable. He said it starts in the neighborhoods, where if you see something, you have to say something.
"That's a whole different realm, and obviously we haven't had it here and don't want to have it here, and that's where we hope we have a good enough relationship with our community," Hebert said.
Hebert said they already work closely with the schools, and would do anything to help keep students safe.
In dealing with mental health in Order 6, Hebert said Chief Duriso made it a point when he got there to get a permanent mental health officer. He said she's out in the neighborhoods and working with local mental health facilities. If she hears of threats, she passes it back to the police department, and it's spread to patrol officers and investigators.
Owens stepped in for orders 7 and 8. He expanded on the department's vigilance in sharing information. Task Force Officer are assigned to federal agencies here locally. They share an information network with their counterparts in the area through federal offices in Beaumont, all of which are a part of the Houston Fusion Center.
"In essence, we already in a sense share that information and ensure that information is not only shared with our counterparts, but by having someone assigned to these agencies as task force officers, we, in turn, receive information, so it's a two-way street," Owens said.
He believes what the Governor is trying to do is make sure that the information sharing is happening not only in the metro areas, but also in the rural areas.
Owens said PAPD has several current grans from the Governor's office, and a grants management team making sure they're following proper protocols. He said they have someone who manages their records as well to ensure that convictions are submitted in a timely manner. Owens believes what the state is looking to do is accelerate or speed up that reporting across the board, to where it's not just monthly or semi-monthly, but weekly.
"It's really a good thing for us all," Owens said.
Gov. Abbott's executive orders do not include any on gun control in Texas. That's something Texas House Democrats want addressed. On Wednesday, they pushed the governor to call a special session on gun violence.
"Texas seems to be leading a horrifying national trend of more frequent and more deadly mass shootings," Democratic state senator Kirk Watson said. "Mass shootings are just one of our gun violent emergencies in Texas. We have a mass shooting crisis, a murder crisis, and a suicide crisis."