DPS chief reminds citizens to be vigilant

State Capital Highlights



Following news reports of coordinated, terroristic bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, on March 22, the Texas Department of Public Safety posted a reminder to Texans to remain vigilant and to report suspicious behaviors.

DPS Director Steven McCraw said ordinary Texans “play a crucial role in helping law enforcement protect the public from groups and lone-wolf actors intent on harming others.”

“Fighting crime in today’s threat environment,” McCraw added, “can be greatly enhanced through the combined efforts of the public and law enforcement, and we urge individuals to report any illegal or suspicious activity they witness to iWATCH or their local authorities.”

The DPS’s iWATCH website, www.iwatchtx.org, was created as a partnership between communities and law enforcement and uses citizen-sourced tips related to criminal activity, McCraw said. Anonymous reports may be made by contacting the DPS at 1-866-786-5972. However, as pointed out by the DPS, iWATCH is not designed to report emergencies, so if a situation requires an emergency response, the correct procedure is to call the emergency number, 911.

In addition, for “smart phone” users, reports to iWATCH can also be made through the free Texas DPS Mobile App, available in both iPhone and Android versions.

McCraw listed examples of behaviors and activities to report, such as:

– Strangers asking questions about building security features and procedures;

– A briefcase, suitcase, backpack or package left behind;

– Cars or trucks left in no-parking zones at important buildings;

– Chemical smells or fumes that are unusual for the location;

– People requesting sensitive information, such as blueprints, security plans or VIP travel schedules, without a need to know;

– Purchasing supplies that could be used to make bombs or weapons or purchasing uniforms without having the proper credentials;

– Taking photographs or videos of security features, such as cameras or checkpoints.

Debt collection scam

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on March 21 issued an alert to Spanishspeaking consumers, alerting them to scam perpetrators posing as debt collectors calling on behalf of government entities.

According to a news release from Paxton’s office, in recent cases, a caller claims to represent the Texas Supreme Court and demands payment of outstanding debts supposedly incurred by consumers sometime in the past.

According to complaints, the person calling says the consumer can either appear in court and pay the alleged debt — which varies from $1,000 to $7,000 — or resolve the matter immediately by sending funds directly to the scammers. How the debt was incurred is never explained. The form of payment requested by the caller is either through prepaid cash cards or wired funds through Western Union.

“Every day, Texans unfortunately lose money to scams and frauds, and my office is committed to protecting consumers by spreading the word about such fraudulent activity, and informing them about what to do if they fall victim,” Paxton said. “The first line of defense against scammers and con artists is education and a wide variety of important topics are addressed in the consumer protection section of our website.”

Wait times too long at VA

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both R-Texas, and Gov. Greg Abbott on March 17 sent a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald urging him “to address the improper scheduling practices and extended wait times” for veterans seeking health care across Texas.

On March 8, the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General released 12 reports on VA Health Care Systems in Texas, seven of which revealed instances of scheduling mismanagement that led to extended veteran wait times. According to the governor’s office, the reports concluded that poor training, lack of supervision and non-centralized scheduling are the primary causes of data manipulation and that improper scheduling is systemic throughout the VA Texas Health Care System.

25 Zika cases confirmed

The Texas Department of State Health Service on March 22 reported that to date, Texas has had 25 confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus disease.

Some 24 of those cases were in travelers infected abroad and diagnosed after they returned home. One case involved a Dallas County resident who had sexual contact with someone who acquired the Zika infection while traveling abroad.

According to DSHS, Zika virus case counts by county were as follows: Bexar, 3; Dallas, 4; Fort Bend, 2; Harris, 10; Tarrant, 3; Travis, 2; and Wise, 1.

ED STERLING is the Director of Members Services at Texas Press Association.

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