Texas DPS asks for $146 million to upgrade communication, Capitol security due to protests and pandemic

The CW39 Houston

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Department of Public Safety is asking for $146.4 million in enhancements to communications between law enforcement agencies in the state and upgrades to security at the State Capitol.

The requests, outlined in the agency’s legislative appropriations request — a biennial budget document presented to lawmakers — cite additional needs to prevent mass casualty attacks in public places and protect the buildings from which the state’s government operates.

DPS director Col. Steve McCraw presented the agency’s legislative appropriations request in a joint budget hearing on Friday morning.

DPS referenced threats of “wide spread and violent civil disorder” stemming from spring and summer protests, as significant externality for its reasoning. Gov. Greg Abbott deployed thousands of state troopers to major cities and landmarks around Texas “to protect the right for people to protest peacefully by deter rioting, looting and violent attacks between protest groups and lone actors,” DPS director Col. Steve McCraw wrote in the agency budget request.

“There is a strong desire by these anarchist insurgents to ransack and destroy the Capitol using whatever means possible, including incendiary devices,” McCraw indicated.

DPS requested $32.9 million earmarked for preventing mass casualty attacks in public places, to be used for training and upgrades to communication systems between local and state law enforcement.

According to the agency report, DPS Threat Analysts and Special Agents were “successful in preventing at least four mass attacks in public places over the last 18 months.” McCraw did not offer further details on those thwarted attacks in his report.

Texas led the nation with six active shooter attacks resulting in 35 deaths and 51 serious injuries in 2019, McCraw stated, including the domestic terrorism attack at an El Paso Walmart and a shooting in Midland/Odessa. McCraw said seven of Texas’ 13 mass attacks in public places over the last 50 years occurred in the past four years. As the agency has focused efforts on preventing future violence, “more needs to be done to detect and interdict threats to life,” he stated.

“The governor and legislature has made it clear to us that there is no more important responsibility in government than protecting its citizens,” McCraw said during Friday’s hearing.

DPS requested $39.1 million for enhancements to Capitol security, due to threats by violent actors that have “substantially escalated” and are “expected to increase over the next three years,” McCraw wrote. He stated the agency would use $36.3 million to pay for 65 troopers, five agents and two analysts, as well as $1.8 million in equipment which includes panic button notifications, x-ray technology, video cameras and gunshot detection capability. The agency wishes to spend $1 million to enhance bomb dog capabilities through its canine unit.

McCraw stated the agency needs the additional staffing and equipment “to obtain an adequate level of security at the Capitol and its grounds and the Capitol Complex…”

$47.2 million of the DPS request would be used on updating cybersecurity programs and replacing outdated IT systems.

“The risk of a catastrophic cybersecurity failure is far too high in the current and foreseeable environment,” McCraw wrote.

“Not only are Troopers and Rangers and special agents a target of physical attacks, but the agency is a target of cyber attacks from hacktivists and others that seek to take down our systems,” he said during Friday’s hearing.

Critics of the agency’s spending worry the newly-unveiled priorities are ousting other important ones in need of attention.

“I wish we were seeing a lot more urgency about the crime labs,” Scott Henson, executive director of criminal justice reform organization Just Liberty, said, referencing a backlog in cases.

“I think the vast majority of the public wishes everyone were much more concerned about are the long lines at the driver’s license centers,” Henson added, noting trouble with driver license office wait times even prior to the pandemic.

DPS Officers Association leadership contends no matter what hand troopers are dealt, they’ll answer the call.

“You can’t put a dollar amount on it,” DPSOA president Richard Jankovsky said. “Because you can’t afford for it to fail at the time that you need it most.”

Jankovsky noted his association is seeking trooper pay increases, which was not on the agency’s top priority list.

“If nothing is done this session, we are going on a decade since they have addressed the pay,” Jankovsky said. “Yet our job responsibility in our job mission has changed entirely.”

DPS requested more than $12 million to pay for additional recruit schools “address a spate of vacancies that will occur as a result of hiring decisions made over 30 years ago,” according to McCraw. In 1990, the agency did not conduct a recruit school for four years, and because DPS loses an average of 160 officers to retirements, resignations and terminations each year, upcoming retirement eligibilities sparked this funding need, McCraw revealed.

The final highlight of the request is $15 million to maintain the more than 360 buildings the agency owns across Texas. McCraw cited a facilities condition assessment which found the agency is in need of $230 million in maintenance to its structures around the state.

“While not enough to address the Department’s deferred maintenance (DM) needs, $15 million will enable us to address the most critical DM projects to avoid office closures and disruptions in services, including critical facilities such as Driver License and Highway Patrol offices,” McCraw stated in his request.

Other externalities included the COVID-19 pandemic, during which state troopers were tasked with inspecting travelers into the state at airports and at the Texas-Louisiana border.

The DPS legislative appropriations request, dated Oct. 9, can be viewed on the agency website, and the joint budget hearing can be viewed on the Texas House of Representatives website.

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