Criminal justice officials said they are expanding a security review of the state's parole offices after a parolee was gunned down Tuesday in an ambush slaying outside a northwest Houston location.
None of the state's 66 parole offices, including the facility at West 34th near Mangum where the parolee was shot at least seven times as he got into his truck, have security guards, metal detectors or security cameras, Bryan Collier, executive director at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, confirmed.
Security measures now being studied will take into account what happens outside the building, he said.
"We're looking at the security of our staff from all different angles, and not just the office," Collier said. "But absolutely this concerns us that this occurred in the parking lot."
The slaying comes after Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he had brought concerns about safety at the offices to TDCJ officials months ago, after he visited two Houston offices. The site of Tuesday's killing was not one of them.
He reiterated those concerns on Tuesday.
"We need more security at these offices, obviously not only for the parolees but maybe even more importantly for the employees," Whitmire said. "It is a dangerous environment … with violent (parolees) who are coming out of prison, they are having a difficult time finding work, means of support, family support, it is a troubled population on a good day."
Both Collier and Whitmire said they didn't know if the security measures would have made a difference in Tuesday's shooting.
"It would serve as a deterrent," Whitmire said. "You have to be proactive in this business."
Killed after meeting
The attacker had been milling outside, witnesses told authorities, loitering near a few trees beside the parking lot. The parolee, whose identity had not been released by late Tuesday, had met with staff, said Houston Police Department Sgt. Thaddeus Pool.
As the parolee got into his pickup, the gunman, wearing black clothes, approached and opened fire about 8:30 a.m., striking him as he sat in the cab. Several shots were fired, Pool said.
Pool said witness statements vary about where the shooter was when the parolee walked into the parking lot.
The victim had been sent to prison in 1994 on a 25-year sentence for aggravated robbery and murder, said Robert Hurst, a TDCJ spokesman. He was paroled in October 2007.
Since then, the agency said, the man had been in no trouble and he reported no problems to his parole officer.
Other people who were at the parole office at the time of the shooting said they heard the gunfire.
Adam Navarro, 42, said he had seen the parolee leaving the office and saw a man beside the parking lot. Later, he heard five gunshots. After a moment he heard other gunfire. When he looked in the direction of the gunshots, he saw nothing to indicate anyone had been shot or a gunman fleeing.
He said the shooting made him worry about his safety.
"How safe are we to come to see our parole officers?" he said.
No longer safe?
Nicole Jones, 40, said she had come to the office with her mother to see her mother's parole officer. She said she had felt safe at the building on other visits, but now she felt concerned about her safety.
"It's scary," she said.
Whitmire, who chairs the Texas Senate's criminal justice committee, said he asked TDCJ executives in January to provide basic security as well as improving working conditions at Houston parole offices after he was invited by state employees to tour two offices - at Dacoma and 290 and the Hamilton and 288 office in downtown Houston.
He said he recommended TDCJ officials install metal detectors and surveillance cameras and post an armed security guard at the offices.
Collier said a parole division committee is completing a study of security enhancements and will implement them this summer. The review began late last year, he said.
The committee is considering panic alarms, metal-detecting wands and surveillance cameras.
Collier said the agency removed armed security guards from parole offices in 2003 after deciding their presence gave agency employees a false sense of security, since staff did not receive any security training and tended to rely only on the guard.