Texas Department of Public Safety

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

A bill proposed Monday would set new procedures for border security, including outbound checkpoints along the border. 

Texas legislators proposed a multifaceted bill, HB 11, that would permit the hiring of more Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and create police checkpoints when crossing the border to Mexico.

“Crime that comes through the border rarely stays at the border,” said Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), primary author of the bill. “It finds its way into communities across Texas and the rest of the nation — where human beings are exploited for profit and lives are ruined by drug addiction. Border crime is not just a border problem. It is a Texas problem, and it requires a statewide response.

According to the bill, the checkpoints would only be on southbound roads in order to check for human trafficking violations, bulk currency and the transporting of weapons. The checkpoints would be located within 250 feet of the U.S.-Mexico border and on highways that cross the border. 

HB 11 also would establish “[encouraging] or [inducing] a person to enter or remain in this country” as a felony.  

The bill would establish procedure for crime-statistics reporting, creates a 50-hour work week standard for DPS officers and forms an “Officer Reserve Corps” within the DPS to conduct “background investigations, sex offender compliance checks, and other duties. 

Bonnen authored the bipartisan bill, which 75 members of the House co-authored. There is an identical Senate bill, which Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) authored. 

Bonnen held a press conference with his co-authors Monday to discuss the bill. At the conference, Bonnen did not provide a cost for the bill’s policies if it were to pass. Currently, the House and Senate’s border budgets are about $400 million and $815 million, respectively. Bonnen said border security funding has more than tripled over the past six years. 

“We’ve stretched more than our financial resources to make up for Washington’s failure,” Bonnen said. “We’ve also put a heavy burden on state and local law enforcement asking DPS troopers to travel from other parts of the state to help, leaving their own communities a little less secure.”

At the conference, Bonnen said the bill is meant to address border security — not immigration reform.

“This is simply about securing our border,” Bonnen said. “We don’t get into the issue of immigration.”

Sandra Villavicencio, a former classmate of Emilio Hoffman, receives a hug, as Greater Portland Baptist Church in Portland, Ore., hosted a prayer vigil Tuesday night, June 10, 2014, for the community following a shooting at Reynolds High School. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Stephanie Yao Long)

Tuesday morning, this country experienced yet another school shooting when a 15-year-old took a gun into Reynolds High School in Oregon and opened fire, killing one student and injuring a teacher before turning the gun on himself. At one point, an assistant principal reportedly told students, “This is not a drill.”

It seems like it never is anymore. Just last week, there was another shooting, which local media outlets reported as an isolated incident, at Fort Hood. The media seems to spend so much time highlighting incidents like these, but news outlets routinely fail to mention a key factor of such shootings, namely that they often occur in gun-free zones — places like Reynolds High School, Fort Hood and even UT.

It is apparent that gun-free zones do not work to effectively curb gun violence. If you do not believe me, then take a look at the Virginia Tech massacre, the two Fort Hood mass shootings, the recent shooting at Seattle Pacific University, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the shooting in the Perry-Castaneda Library and many others. They each took place in a gun-free zone. The reality is that gun-free zones only do one thing: They disarm law-abiding citizens, specifically concealed handgun license holders. As of Dec. 31, 2013, there were 708,048 active Texas concealed handgun license holders. The charts below show the conviction rates of CHL holders compared to the rest of the state between 2008-2012. (Note: The Texas Department of Public Safety waits two years to report its data, so we do not yet have data for 2013.)

 

Now let’s compare CHL holders to those without permits as it pertains specifically to murder and manslaughter convictions over this same time span. One would assume, since CHL holders are potentially carrying a firearm daily, that their conviction rates would be astronomically higher. The data below will prove otherwise.

 

Currently, those legally allowed to own a firearm are allowed to keep that weapon locked in their car while on campus. While CHL holders cannot carry on campus, they can, legally, upon leaving campus. For example, a CHL holder can legally walk along the Drag just feet from campus, as long as they do not wander across the street onto University property. This law implies that somehow CHL holders are inherently more dangerous once setting foot on campus.

Current state Sen. and Republican nominee for lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was a joint author of a campus carry bill which failed to pass last legislative session. Patrick intends to continue working to pass campus carry if elected as lieutenant governor. Also, state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, has confirmed via phone that he plans to author another campus carry bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January. But other legislators such as state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, intend to fight any bills of the sort. Naishtat represents the district where UT is located and says, “As long as the UT administration, along with the UT and Austin police departments, maintain their outspoken opposition to concealed carry on campus, I will unhesitatingly continue to follow their lead.”

Doubts about campus carry are valid considering firearms are nearly always portrayed as being used only by “bad guys” and cops in movies. However, let’s take a look in our own backyard. Many of us are aware there was a shooting in West Campus in late April, at a construction site near the intersection of Rio Grande Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. After having been fired from the worksite, a former employee returned to the site with a gun and began firing shots at the worksite foreman. Luckily for the foreman, who has a CHL, this was not a gun-free zone. He was able to draw his handgun and return fire at the aggressor, thus saving his life when seconds counted. There was simply not enough time to call 911 to wait minutes for a response. If campus carry were allowed, CHL holders would be able to help prevent a gunman from taking innocent lives on campus just as one did in this incident.

When seconds count, the police are minutes away. This is just a stark reality. In 2010, after a gunman opened fire in the Perry-Castaneda Library, the University and UTPD conducted an After Action review of the event. This report states that it took the first UTPD officer three minutes to arrive at the library once the department was first notified of a gunman who was carrying an AK-47, which is capable of firing approximately 600 rounds per minute. Additionally, it took more than 13 minutes before the campus sirens and loudspeaker sounded directing faculty, staff, and students into buildings for campus lockdown. By this time, the lone gunman had already committed suicide and, thankfully, had not injured anyone else.

Most importantly, in the conclusion of this report it was admitted, “that this individual could have hurt and most likely killed many individuals if he had chosen to do so.” Let that sink in for a moment and realize that the University and UTPD admit and are fully aware they cannot stop an active shooter without many potential fatalities first. We need campus carry to stop threats within seconds, not minutes, just like in the recent West Campus shooting. After all, this is not a drill.

Daywalt is a government senior from Killeen. Follow him on Twitter @JohnDaywalt.

Infographics by Omar Longoria

Photo Credit: UT System | Daily Texan Staff

For seven years, Joseph Michael Pasqua has worked as a police officer and safety coordinator at the McDonald Observatory as the sole representative of UTPD in Fort Davis.

The observatory — intentionally located in a place far from bright city lights for prime star gazing — puts Pasqua about 430 miles from his UTPD peers.

Pasqua’s duties are wide-ranging. He serves as the operations chief for the Emergency Response Team, an animal control officer and a volunteer firefighter for the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department.

“I am on-call 24/7 when I am on site,” Pasqua said. 

Pasqua started working for the observatory in 2006, coordinating with other law enforcement and emergency response teams, including the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens, Jeff Davis County EMS and other emergency care providers.

In December of 1990, Pasqua lost his partner after a shootout in the line of duty. Pasqua sustained injuries after being shot four times. Afterward he went on to help create the Big Bend Area Law Enforcement Fallen Officer’s Memorial.

Pasqua said Jeff Davis County, which is a sparsely populated area of roughly 2,300 residents, is one of the largest counties in Texas and the small, but spread out nature of the area means community support is important. 

“All of our firefighters and emergency medical personnel are volunteers,” Pasqua said. “This is another way we give back to the citizens of our county and provide a safe place to live, work and visit.”

According to UTPD Capt. Julie Gillespie, nearly every officer working on campus knows about Pasqua — or Joe Mike, as they refer to him — even if they have not personally worked with him.

“He’s just a hard worker and he gives a lot of his time, both on duty and with volunteer work that he does out there with the fire[s],” Gillespie said. “He’s one of those guys that everyone likes to be around.”

UTPD Capt. Don Verett met Pasqua when he came to work for the police department and has gone to visit Pasqua at the observatory on multiple occasions.

“He’s hardworking, dedicated, he has a great sense of humor, he’s just an all-around good guy,” Verett said. “I think [what I admire most about him is] just his varied skill set that he has with being an all-around first responder … [and] his dedication to the people of McDonald Observatory and Jeff Davis County.”

Pasqua said he loves the diverse nature of his job but is most proud of the work he does engaging with the community.

“The most rewarding part of my job is being able to assist people in their time of need and being able to give back to the community in which I live,” Pasqua said.

Training Day

Photo Editor’s note: Senior Photographer Marisa Vasquez brought back some interesting stuff today after she found State Trooper trainees outside the Texas Department of Public Safety off Lamar Boulevard. I especially liked how she focused on the obvious repition that accompanies having a large group doing any kind of organized activity. It wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, though, had she not managed to capture a somehwat humourous moment at the end when one of the trainees glanced over to see what his fellow trainees were doing. It’s awkward in a good way. These things exist, seriously. - Lawrence Peart

A hacker who targeted the Texas Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement computers then bragged about it has pleaded guilty.

No sentencing date was immediately set for 30-year-old Higinio O. Ochoa III of Galveston, who faces up to five years in prison. Ochoa on Monday appeared before a federal judge in Austin and pleaded guilty to accessing a protected computer without authorization.

Investigators say Ochoa in February hacked into computers operated by Texas DPS, the West Virginia Chiefs of Police Association, the Alabama Department of Public Safety and Houston County, Ala.

Officials say the Texan downloaded personal information, deleted data and defaced websites, then boasted about it. Prosecutors say Ochoa claimed to be part of a group known as Anonymous.

Ochoa remains free on bond.

The process of “doctor shopping,” or when patients see multiple doctors to be re-prescribed medication without the previous doctor’s knowledge, will become more difficult for prescription drug abusers this summer.

After years with a hard copy request through the mail as the only way for doctors to learn if a patient has been prescribed the same drug by multiple doctors, the Texas Department of Public Safety plans to unveil an Internet database which will inform doctors of the patients’ prescription history before they leave the office, the DPS told The Daily Texan in an email.

There are currently prescription drug monitoring programs operating in 36 other states; an additional 11 states and Guam have also enacted legislation for their own programs.

DPS representatives said the database is an attempt to prevent patients from abusing and distributing drugs obtained from multiple prescriptions. DPS representatives said the database is one of many tools a practitioner can use to make a professional decision about prescribing a patient a drug.

“The goal is to provide a single database record of all prescription transactions within the state of Texas in order to take a proactive approach to prevention, assist with criminal investigations, provide historical reporting and identify trends,” DPS representatives said.

Because of privacy laws, only doctors, pharmacists and police will have access to the database, DPS representatives said, and doctors will not be required to look up a patient each time a drug is prescribed if there does not seem to be a risk of abuse.

UTPD Sgt. Charles Bonnet said prescription drug abuse is an issue for students.

“It does go on more than it should and probably more often than people think,” Bonnet said. “I’d say there is more prescription drug abuse than marijuana, cocaine and other substance abuse.”

Bonnet said he has noticed an increase in the abuse of prescription drugs in the past five years. Students are caught with drugs not prescribed to them more often than distributing them, he said.

“Some students don’t realize that just because it was prescribed by a doctor to your friend, doesn’t mean you can take it, too,” Bonnet said. “If you take Adderall just because you are studying for an exam, and it’s not prescribed to you, it is a crime.”

Undeclared sophomore James Compean said he has heard about Adderall, a drug prescribed to those with ADHD and narcolepsy, being sold during exam weeks.

“I’ve heard people talk about Adderall being sold for $5 a pill during the semester and during exam weeks they can be sold for $20 each because people want to stay up late studying,” Compean said.

UT senior research scientist Jane Maxwell said the prescription drug database is necessary not only to detect drug abusers but also for doctors to offer the best treatment for a patient.

“People who get a lot of different prescriptions for real and legal reasons, such as the elderly, may go to one doctor and get prescribed one medication, then go to different doctor and get prescribed another, and the two drugs might be harmful when taken together,” Maxwell said. “This database is needed badly to prevent that.”

Printed on Thursday, February 9, 2012 as: DPS to prescription to prevent drug abuse

Political analysis company Stratfor has recently come under fire for allegedly being part of a plan to shut down local activist groups Occupy Austin and Deep Green Resistance Austin.

An unknown hacker group infiltrated Stratfor’s systems in December and obtained a large amount of confidential information, such as credit card numbers and company emails, and eliminated data on four Stratfor servers. Alleged emails between Stratfor employees and the Texas Department of Public Safety have caused debate regarding validity of the emails and whether online spying is taking place. In the messages, DPS officers instructed Stratfor to keep a close eye on Occupy Austin and Deep Green Resistance Austin.

In a statement released earlier this month, Stratfor CEO George Friedman said he did not know who the hackers were — many have claimed them to be members of the Internet activist group Anonymous – but that they allegedly hacked to expose corporate corruption.

Stratfor provides worldwide geopolitical analysis to subscribers around the world using traditional news outlets, open source monitoring of information and surveys from human sources.

Friedman said he expected the hackers to be disappointed with what they found.

“Of course we have relationships with people in the U.S. and other governments and obviously we know people in corporations, and that will be discovered in the emails,” Friedman said. “But that’s our job. We are what we said we were — an organization that generates its revenues through geopolitical analysis.”

In the emails, DPS officials sent Stratfor information on both activists movements and asked the company to gain understanding on how both groups operate. Stratfor employees reportedly suspected an alliance between Occupy Austin and Deep Green Resistance and thought it could be a threat.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said DPS cannot verify the authenticity of the information contained in the emails.

Occupy Austin member Kit O’Connell said the Stratfor emails reaffirmed the group’s concern about infiltrators within Occupy Austin. O’Connell said the dates on the emails coincided with the arrests of many Occupy Austin members the night of Halloween for civil disobedience. On Halloween, one person left the group and accused specific members of breaking the law, O’Connell said.

O’Connell said although Occupy Austin group members have suspected other members of being infiltrators, there is no definite way to tell and no direct accusations have been made.

“Our movement is based around transparency and we do almost everything out in the open, although we are concerned of people spying,” O’Connell said. “It’s obvious some people in intelligence don’t know what to make of us and are afraid of us.”

He also said while many of Occupy Austin’s members are a part of Deep Green Resistance Austin, there is no formal alliance between the groups. There has been some talk about occupying the Stratfor building but nothing is set in stone, O’Connell said.

Stratfor officials have said they cannot comment on the emails at the moment but that measures are being taken to make sure something like this does not happen again.

Although English freshman Sasha Henry’s cousin is getting married in Monterrey during spring break, she is afraid of crossing the border into Mexico because of a recent upswing in violence and a warning from the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Texas DPS issued a warning earlier this month against traveling to Mexico for spring break — the fifth warning the department has issued since last spring break. According to the warning, there has been a general increase in drug-related violence since Christmas, as well as the assassinations of a missionary in Tamaulipas, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer in Torreón and two El Paso teens in Juárez. As many as 65 Americans were killed in Mexico in 2010, the warning said. Henry said she tried to convince her mother not to go and forwarded her the DPS warning to help her argument. Her family went to Monterrey last July and took many precautionary safety measures, she said. “My family said we couldn’t go downtown alone unless one of our male family members came with us,” she said. “It’s dangerous. You couldn’t travel by night; the streets were dead by 6 p.m. I hear now that in Monterrey, crime isn’t just happening at night; it’s happening during the day.” The family plans to go by a nonstop bus that will only travel during the day and will not sightsee. They will not take their cars because of the dangers of having a Texas license plate, Henry said. “It’s not a safe thing to go to Mexico at this point,” she said. “It’s the saddest thing to have my cousins in Mexico say, ‘Please come.’ They know it’s dangerous and our safety is a concern, but it’s hard when you have family there.” According to the warning, Falcon Lake is also an area to avoid because cartel activity remains high in the area. Mexico continues to face criminal offenses, including kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery and carjacking, according to the warning. The DPS issued the warning to call attention to dangers in Mexico many don’t know of, said DPS spokesperson Tela Mange. “We want people to be aware of things going on that they might not be aware of,” she said. “This year with all the things going on recently, we wanted to warn people that it’s not safe.” People should always check the DPS website before traveling to any country to get the most up-to-date safety and security information, Mange said. Tourist towns such as Cabo San Lucas and Cozumel are not as threatening as cities close to and in Northern Mexico, said undeclared sophomore Jorge Gubera. Gubera plans to travel to Cabo with two friends from high school during the break. He also traveled to Cozumel for spring break in 2009. According to the warning, crime also exists in popular resort areas. “I try not to think about [the warning]. It’s kind of scary,” he said. “I’m not too worried about it though because [Cabo San Lucas] is a tourist town.”

More than 265,000 Texans are homeless, but two Austin representatives are attempting to lower the number by introducing legislation that would allow homeless individuals the ability to acquire a free Texas identification card — a basic necessity to gainful employment.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, held a press conference Thursday at Caritas, a nonprofit refugee and social service organization, and further discussed the legislation’s goal of making more homeless individuals economically self-sufficient.

“This legislation will help a lot of folks that Caritas helps and make a real difference in many lives,” said Watson.

The proposed legislation would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to waive the $16 fee associated with obtaining an ID as long as applicants are able to verify their homeless status by filling out an affidavit.

“It’s not uncommon for individuals facing homelessness to lose or leave behind many of their belongings, including personal identification,” Rep. Naishtat said in a press release. “This legislation is crucial because without an ID, people do not have access to services, access to permanent housing or access to employment opportunities. This proposal will help to lift individuals out of the cycle of homelessness.”

Assistant Development Director of the Salvation Army Robert Cox said homeless people need an identification card to perform everyday functions.

The Salvation Army, however, already offers free assistance for homeless individuals to gain an identification card, Cox said. The organization has numerous social workers, and homeless individuals that acquire a bed for the night are able to utilize the department and gain assistance.

Peewee Offutt, a homeless man who resides on and near the Drag, said that he would absolutely take advantage of acquiring a free identification card if the bill passed.

“Austin has a lot of organizations I can go to for assistance, but being able to get an ID for free would help out a lot,” Offutt said.
Offutt’s current identification is out of state and expired in 2007. Although he has been homeless for nearly 10 years, he said it would be very difficult to find a job without a current ID.

The Texas Department of Public Safety performed a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new crime lab Tuesday. The new facility will allow the department to expand and keep up with technological advances, speakers said.

With a staff of 106 forensic scientists working in a variety of departments, the building allows for developments in the growing field of forensic DNA testing and digital multimedia analysis.

The new four-story, $25.5 million laboratory is double the size, and houses the most advanced technology in forensic science.

DPS director Steve McCraw said that the facility will be an investment for public safety for many years to come, and the lab is expected to evaluate not only crime evidence from the Austin metropolitan area, but also 30 surrounding counties across Texas.

“We’ve had difficulty keeping up with the demands regarding DNA, and part of that was because we didn’t have the facilities to do it,” McCraw said.