Many Texans were confused after receiving a strange alert on their phones earlier this month. On August 9, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a “Blue Alert” to people across the state after a sheriff’s deputy was shot near the Wichita Falls area.
The notification read: “Law Enforcement Blue Alert in this area until Aug 17 12:19 a.m. Monitor Radio or TV.” The Blue Alert program is designed to warn the public about violent criminals who have assaulted police officers. Former Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order to enact the program in 2009.
According to local ABC news affiliate KLTV, the program includes an emergency alert message sent to cellphones and other devices with information about suspects accused of killing or seriously injuring a police officer. The system is designed to warn the public about a dangerous individual and generate leads to more quickly apprehend suspects.
Texas DPS said that a detailed description of the offender’s vehicle, vehicle tag or partial tag is required before an alert can be issued.
This month’s Blue Alert was issued four hours after a Clay County sheriff’s deputy was shot in the chest while conducting a traffic stop, but may not have contained all of the qualifying information for an alert.
A news release described the suspect as a white male with a thin build and a flat-billed cap driving a white four-door Cadillac. However, no vehicle tag was mentioned.
“Vehicle is believed to have damage, including a possible broken or damaged rear window and possible bullet holes,” the DPS stated.
Sheriff Jeff Lyde told reporters that the sheriff’s deputy was fortunately hit in his bulletproof vest and is expected to be OK.
Some people were critical of the alert, as it did not seem to meet the DPS requirements and was lacking several pieces of information. There was some concern that such an alert could lead to misunderstandings by the public. DPS press secretary Ericka Miller defended the alert because of the urgency of the situation.
“We would like to remind the public that Blue Alerts are urgent public safety warnings that are meant to warn people of possible danger,” she said. “They are designed to speed up the apprehension of violent criminals who kill or seriously wound law enforcement officers by generating tips and leads for the investigating agencies, and therefore giving those agencies the best opportunity to apprehend a dangerous criminal. The department initiates alerts when they are requested by an investigating agency, and [it] treats every alert activation as an urgent situation. It’s important to remember, when responding to a qualifying event, the investigating agency may not initially have sufficient identifying or descriptive information on the suspect so that can be included in the alert, and they often complete an initial investigation to determine that an alert would be useful in the case.”
Since the alert, suspect Joshua Lee Green of Arlington was apprehended by the Arlington SWAT team and sent to Clay County jail where he faces charges of assault on a police officer.
Emergency alerts can be toggled on and off on one’s phone settings.