AUSTIN, January 22, 2017 – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has released the 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview, a state intelligence estimate that offers an assessment of the current public safety threats to Texas.
“Protecting Texans from the full scope of public safety and homeland security threats is the foremost goal of DPS, and the department works with our fellow law enforcement partners at all levels of government to prepare for the unthinkable,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “This report provides an invaluable assessment of the most significant threats facing our state and is a crucial tool in combating those threats.”
The report draws on the data and perspectives of multiple law enforcement and homeland security agencies, whose contributions were essential to developing this assessment. It also includes a description of the state’s systematic approach to detect, assess and prioritize public safety threats within seven categories, including terrorism, crime, natural disasters, motor vehicle crashes, public health, industrial accidents and cyber threats.
The report ascertains that, due to recent terrorist attacks perpetrated by domestic lone offenders and large foreign terrorist organizations like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), the current terrorism threat to Texas is elevated. The assessment also recognizes that the heightened threat is expected to persist during the next year, due in part to the relatively high number of recent terrorism-related arrests and thwarted plots, and the prevalence of ISIS’s online recruitment and incitement messaging.
Additional significant findings include:
Threats from violent domestic antigovernment extremists remain concerning in light of standoffs with federal law enforcement in Oregon in 2014 and Nevada in early 2016, as well as a series of ambush murders of police officers.
Crime threatens the public safety and liberty of all Texans in some way. DPS Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program data for 2015 shows a 4.7 percent decrease of the major crime rate in Texas from 2014. This is positive for the safety and welfare of our citizens. Conversely, violent crimes in particular increased for the second year in a row.
Texas’ UCR program includes seven index crimes: homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. What the index crime data does not currently account for are other crimes typically committed by criminal organizations that impact the security of Texas communities, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, money laundering, and public corruption.
Criminal organizations – including Mexican cartels and transnational gangs – and individual criminals engage in a wide range of illicit activities in Texas. Among the vilest crimes these organizations and other criminals engage in is the exploitation and trafficking of children and other vulnerable victims. Human trafficking is highly profitable, and is the fastest growing organized crime business in Texas.
All eight of the major Mexican cartels operate in Texas, and they have enlisted transnational and statewide gangs to support their drug and human smuggling and human trafficking operations on both sides of the border.
Gangs continue to pose a significant public safety threat to Texas, and their propensity for violence and many kinds of criminal activity is persistent. While the greatest concentrations of gang activity tend to be in the larger metropolitan areas, gang members are also present in the surrounding suburbs and in rural areas. Gang activity is especially prevalent in some of the counties adjacent to Mexico and along key smuggling corridors, since many Texas-based gangs are involved in cross-border trafficking.
Motor vehicle crashes killed 3,520 people in Texas in 2015. In addition, the high volume of commercial motor vehicles on Texas’ roadways is a particular concern because of the increased potential for loss of life when large-mass commercial vehicles are involved in crashes.
Texas faces an array of natural threats, including floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornados, and drought, with more major disaster declarations than any other state in the nation. These disasters result in loss of life, damage to infrastructure, and billions of dollars in personal property damage and economic losses.
Public health threats to Texas remain a significant concern, with emerging infectious diseases and other illnesses such as influenza and enteroviruses.
Major industrial accidents constitute another potential threat to public safety, especially because of the large industrial base in Texas. The state’s vast size and economic importance contribute to the potential for severe consequences if any significant accidents occur.
Since technology has become a target, a vulnerability and a tool used by criminals and foreign governments, cyber threats continue to be a significant area of concern, and we are especially concerned about the potential consequences of a successful cyberattack on the state’s critical infrastructure.
“As terrorism has become more disaggregated, communities in Texas and across the nation are facing a heightened threat of terrorism, and the continued potential for attacks against civilians and members of law enforcement is a serious ongoing concern,” said Director McCraw. “The report identifies several other unique threats to our state – including organized crime and Mexican cartels, natural disasters and cyber attacks – for which we must be prepared. With the 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview in mind, DPS will continue working with our law enforcement partners to prevent, respond to and recover from all potential threats facing our state.”