Director's Remarks to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies
Remarks prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Mark, for that introduction. Good afternoon, everyone. Glad to be back here in person speaking to all of you. Conferences like these give us a chance to step away from our day-to-day challenges and gain some perspective on the issues we’re all facing in law enforcement.
They also give us the opportunity to hear directly from you what you’re seeing and experiencing in your states, and what we at the FBI can do to help.
We also hope to find ways to make our partnerships even stronger. Today I’d like to talk about what we’re up against—what some of the most pressing threats are to our national security and to law enforcement.
That includes our priorities—the counterterrorist threat, threats through cyberspace, from foreign intelligence, and in the form of violent crime, including violence against law enforcement.
Our number one priority at the FBI remains preventing terrorist attacks.
We still face threats from al-Qaida and other foreign terrorist groups that want to carry out large-scale attacks in the U.S. and around the world, but today, the greatest terrorist threat we face is from lone actors. These include homegrown violent extremists, who are inspired by foreign terror groups and ideologies, and domestic violent extremists.
Far too often, we’re seeing people resort to violence to advance their ideological, political, or social goals.
That’s why the FBI has significantly surged resources to our increasing number of domestic terrorism investigations.
Another one of our top priorities is, of course, the cyber threat. It’s taking an ever-increasing amount of our attention and energy. Today’s cyber threats are more pervasive, hit a wider variety of victims, and carry the potential for greater damage than ever before, which is why the cyber threat will stay near the top of our list, as long as nation-states and cybercriminal syndicates keep innovating.
They’re constantly developing new ways to compromise our networks and get the most reach and impact out of their operations. We’re laser-focused on ransomware schemes—particularly those targeting our nation’s critical infrastructure.
Not only have these schemes wreaked havoc on company operations and caused devastating financial losses, but they’ve also crippled hospital systems, targeted the energy sector, threatened emergency services, shut down local government operations, and more.
Even law enforcement data isn’t immune from this threat, as we’ve seen ransomware attacks on police departments from California to Washington, D.C.
But that’s not all we’re up against.
We’re also facing persistent counterintelligence threats from formidable adversaries like North Korea, Russia, and Iran.
However, the greatest long-term counterintel threat, not only to our information and intellectual property, but also to our economic vitality and, ultimately, our national security—comes from China.
We’ve got around 2,000 active China CI cases across the Bureau, about a 1,300% increase over where we were a decade ago.
So those are some of our top priorities at the FBI, but a topic that remains top of mind for us and all of you these days is of course violent crime.
In too many communities, we’re seeing a disturbing uptick in homicides and violent assaults. Our 2020 detailed crime data—which we released late last year—illustrates this.
Overall violent crime in the United States, which includes not only murder but also assault, robbery, and rape, rose by more than 5%. I want to put that in perspective, because it’s hard to visualize what 5% actually means.
It means in 2020, there were 67,000 more violent crime offenses than there were in 2019. And homicides jumped nearly 30% in 2020, the largest single-year increase in more than 50 years.
You all know what’s driving the violent crime in your states.
Whether it’s a community where a disproportionate amount of gun violence takes place or rival gangs wreaking havoc in a particular region or a handful of well-known trigger pullers who keep finding their way back to the streets, no matter how many times they’re arrested, at the FBI, we want to be your integral partner in the fight against violent crime.
This is why we’re sharing information, working strategically with our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners, and prosecuting the right cases in federal court. Our primary model for fighting violent crime remains our task forces.
Throughout the U.S., we have more than 50 violent crimes task forces; 175 Safe Streets gang task forces, with nearly 2,000 TFOs; 22 Safe Trails Task Forces, which are working to reduce Indian Country crime; and more than 100 Transnational Organized Crime Task Forces, with 600 members.
For some of the cities hit hardest by the recent surge, we’re boosting those efforts by temporarily surging resources to our field offices. These investigative, analytical, and technical resources embed with FBI personnel and support existing initiatives with our law enforcement partners for an immediate, measurable impact against violent crime.
Depending on where they are, the teams might focus on helping to get violent gun offenders off the streets, targeting commercial robbery crews, or taking aim at drug-trafficking gangs and criminal enterprises.
To date we have surged resources to six offices—Buffalo, Milwaukee, Louisville, Memphis, San Juan, and a current deployment in San Francisco. And collectively, these deployments have yielded nearly 150 arrests and the seizure of over 70 firearms from violent criminals.
And we’re seeing promising trends. In Milwaukee, homicides went down 17%, and non-fatal shootings fell by 28% during the resource surge.
And in Buffalo, there was a 50% decrease in homicides during the deployment. Buffalo is a good example of what we can accomplish when we gather intelligence across jurisdictions, surge resources, and build large enterprise investigations.
Buffalo had approached all-time highs in shootings and homicides over the past several years. By taking a hard look at what was driving that increase, we identified a couple of local gangs that were responsible for a number of murders.
We worked with our partners to build the case, and last fall, the 13th member of that gang was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted on two counts of murder in aid of racketeering.
We work shoulder-to-shoulder with our state and local partners in investigations like that across the country every day.
Just last year, our Safe Streets Task Forces made more than 20,000 arrests, seized more than 8,000 firearms, and dismantled over 200 gangs and criminal organizations.
These kinds of joint investigations we can all be proud of, agents and task force officers working with our partners to make communities safer.
I want to especially thank ASCIA’s member agencies for sending your best and brightest investigators and intel analysts to our task forces and for helping to ensure information flows both ways through fusion centers.
By doing this, you’re helping your local partners combat this ongoing wave of violence in so many areas of our country.
We’re going to continue surging resources, and we’ll keep assessing where our support will most help our partners to continue cracking down on violent criminals.
It means going after the most violent offenders, making good use of intelligence about what’s fueling crime, and working together across agencies and departments to drive results.
Our goal is to help make a lasting impact, so our communities are safer places to live and work.
Threats to Law Enforcement
We need those communities to not only be safer places for our citizens to live and work, but also for the men and women whose job it is to protect those citizens.
That brings me to a topic that’s of paramount importance to me, and I know it is to you, too, threats to law enforcement.
Last year, 73 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed on the job—the highest single-year number since 9/11.
And that doesn’t even count those we lost to COVID or in accidental deaths, those killed while they weren’t on duty, or the scores of officers who were injured but thankfully survived.
Especially troubling is that a record number of those officers killed—nearly half—had no engagement with their assailant before the attack.
They were ambushed while sitting in their vehicles, attacked while on patrol, or lured out into the open and killed.
And so far in 2022, 16 more officers have been murdered in the line of duty.
One of those was Officer Drew Barr, from Mark Keel’s home state of South Carolina. Officer Barr was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance just over a week ago.
At a news conference later that day, Cayce Police Chief Chris Cowan said Officer Barr was “married to this profession. He cared about nothing else other than serving his community. He was shot and killed this morning for no reason….It was inexcusable.”
Like Officer Barr, each one of the officers we’ve lost got up one morning, picked up their badge, not knowing whether they'd make it home that night.
They did their jobs despite all the hardships they've faced in these especially difficult past few years because they were devoted to protecting their fellow Americans, both friends and strangers alike, devoted to serving their communities.
The loss of any agent or officer is heartbreaking for their families, for their agencies, and for the communities they serve. It's why working together, to fight the scores of threats we collectively face, is so important.
Keeping our people safe is our highest priority, and I know you feel the same. Getting the most violent offenders off our streets will go a long way toward that, and so will making sure folks have the training and equipment they need to do the job safely.
Because law enforcement is dangerous enough; wearing a badge shouldn’t make someone a target.
We need good people to continue to answer the call to make law enforcement their career.
Of course, if we’re going to be able to recruit and retain the special kind of person willing to put his or her life on the line to protect others, we need to show them that we appreciate their sacrifices, that we have their backs.
I’ll keep doing my best to sound the alarm, and I’d ask for your help in raising awareness on the issue, too.
Data Collection Programs
To know how to effectively address violent crime or threats to law enforcement, we need to understand the trends. We need concrete information and transparency into what’s really going on in our communities—accurate, objective data. We need the facts.
The great news is now that we’ve transitioned to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, the FBI can provide more detailed and comprehensive crime data.
NIBRS-only reporting has been up and running for over a year, and we’ve got nearly 12,000 law enforcement agencies (63%) reporting their data. I want to thank everyone who’s participating, but we can do better.
If you aren’t contributing NIBRS-certified data yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. We know it can be a challenge, but we’re here to help you.
The Bureau’s investing—and is going to continue investing—in training and tools to help you make the transition to NIBRS.
If you have questions or need help getting us your data, please contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without it, we can’t get an accurate nationwide picture of things like hate crimes or assaults on law enforcement officers
If you aren’t NIBRS-certified, you can’t contribute that kind of data. And we need your information so our agencies, and the public we serve, can understand the issues we’re facing and make the best possible decisions.
The same goes for our National Use-of-Force Data Collection, also a top priority for us, and I know it is for ASCIA as well.
Our goal there is not to offer insight into single incidents; it’s to provide a comprehensive view of the circumstances, subjects, and officers involved in use-of-force incidents nationwide.
I’m happy to report that we hit our participation threshold last month. We’ve now got over 60% of law enforcement agencies contributing data.
That means in the very near future, we’ll be able to release our first statistics on the use of force, things like the top types of force used and resistance encountered, as well as the overall percentages we’re seeing for different incidents and reasons for initial contact.
Once we get to the 80% mark, we’ll be able to share even more data and insight into use-of-force incidents. We can give the public the necessary facts, and, I believe, strengthen our nation’s confidence in law enforcement.
As we all know, if we don’t provide the data and the context, others out there might try to paint a very different picture, using their own information and their own context or spin.
It all depends on the data our law enforcement agencies provide. I know I’m speaking to the choir here; many of ASCIA’s member agencies are already submitting use-of-force data.
We’ve got to continue to encourage our local law enforcement partner, our city and county departments, to submit their use-of-force statistics.
Another program I want to tell you about today is a new one, and it’s one that’s hard to talk about. This year, we started collecting data on law enforcement suicides and attempted suicides. That includes not just the location of these tragedies and the manner of death, but also things like biographical information, employment history, and any triggers, issues, or out-of-the-ordinary behaviors or actions agencies might have seen.
You can access this data collection through the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal, or LEEP.
We need to be able to take care of our people, and we can’t do that properly without greater insight into what’s really happening out there.
I firmly believe these data collections are going to be vital for all of us as we continue making the physical and mental health of our people a priority.
Those are just a few thoughts on our current priorities and challenges. Times like these call for both strong partnerships and innovation.
At the FBI, we’re committed to both, and I know ASCIA is, too. After all, your organization was founded more than 40 years ago to improve communication, share ideas, and build relationships among public safety agencies.
We need to stay tightly connected, now more than ever, so I hope you’ll continue to work with us, including on our many task forces.
And we want to continue to help you in whatever way we can.
Thank you for your service, for your support, and for your partnership with us, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to join you today.