Process, Partnership, Brand, and Innovation: The Four Pillars of Law Enforcement
Remarks as delivered.
Thank you, Paul. It’s great to be here again with all of you and to look out and actually recognize so many familiar faces. As a lot of you know, I’ve now been to all 56 of the FBI’s field offices, a lot of them more than once, and a whole bunch of our legat offices overseas. And I’ve valued hearing from lots of you during those trips. And between those visits and our various meetings throughout the year, I can say that I’ve met with law enforcement leaders from every state across this country and from a whole host of countries around the world. And I say that, because it’s particularly important to me personally to get a better handle on the challenges that you face, to try to understand better what you’re seeing in your communities, and how we at the FBI can help.
And during those visits and those meetings, I’m hearing consistently about great work and strong partnerships, about innovative efforts, and about new ways of doing things. But I’m also sensing a fair amount of fatigue. You’ve got a lot on your plates, just like us. You’re facing sophisticated threats on both the national security and the criminal fronts. Whether it’s terrorism now moving at the speed of social media or the increasingly blended threat of cyber intrusions and state-sponsored economic espionage or malign foreign influence and interference or active shooters and other violent criminals threatening our communities or the scourge of opioid trafficking and abuse or hate crimes, human trafficking, crimes against children—the list of threats we’re worried about isn’t getting any shorter, and none of the threats on that list are getting any easier.
And hanging over all of them are broader challenges, cross-cutting challenges, like maintaining lawful access to electronic evidence when tech companies are now deliberately blinding themselves, and then all of us in law enforcement, to what’s happening on their own platforms and devices, thanks to default encryption. And you’re facing all of these emerging and evolving threats with limited resources. You confront a lack of trust in some of the communities you serve. You’re contending with an alarmingly frequent rate of violence against your officers and heart-wrenching deaths in the line of duty. In some cases, you face political pressure from all sides that can sap your physical, financial, and emotional resources. And we’re all dealing with an incredibly sensitive and challenging issue, and that’s the issue of suicide prevention and mental health in law enforcement, which I’ll say a little bit more about in a few minutes.
It’s hard not to consider the constant needs of your communities and this ever-growing list of threats and not feel tired. Of course that tired feeling could also be the combination of a Saturday morning keynote by a speaker whose own family teases him as boring, following a late-night series of networking events. I get it, networking is important. Sometimes I find after a really tough day, or a particularly long year, I want to network a whole lot.
But today, I want to focus on what we’re all doing together to address these issues. I’d like to share some themes that I’ve been trying to reinforce throughout the FBI. And I’d like to talk about why in these particularly tumultuous times, it’s so important that we have each other’s backs and take care of each other.
Whenever I meet with FBI audiences, especially out in the field, I find myself coming back to the same four themes. The first is process—making sure we’re not just doing the right thing, but doing it in the right way. The second theme is a focus on partnership and teamwork in everything we do. The third is about the FBI brand and building on the brand that matters the most, and by that I mean not the views of the pundits or the prognosticators or the armchair critics, but the people we actually do the work with, the people we do the work for, because theirs are the opinions that ultimately matter. And fourth, the need for innovation and a focus on the future. And as I thought about what I should say to all of you today, I realized that those four themes don’t just belong to the FBI, they apply to law enforcement at large, to our profession as a whole. And they might, just might, provide a framework for tackling that daunting list of challenges that we all face.
So starting with process: To me, the word process is just a shorthand for the importance of doing the right thing in the right way. Our reputation at the FBI, after 111 years, is based, I think, not so much on all of our wins and successes, but rather on the way we accomplish those wins and successes. At our best, we’re focused on the basics, on being true to our core values. Things like treating everybody you engage with professionalism and respect. Things like executing the mission with objectivity and independence and following the facts wherever they may lead, to whomever they may lead, no matter who likes it. And there’s always somebody who doesn’t like it. Making sure we’re catching bad guys and keeping people safe while protecting civil liberties and civil rights, and making sure that our means justify the ends, and not the other way around. You live by those same principles, too. Transparency and accountability have become buzzwords of late, but they’re critical to the work we all do because we work for the American public. And they deserve both from us.
Many of you have determined that one way to improve transparency and accountability and to boost community trust is by requiring your officers to wear body cameras. And I know that’s been a concern when it comes to your officers serving on FBI task forces and other federal task forces, too. And of course we do have to make sure that we protect the identities of our undercover agents, officers, and confidential informants, and we do have to keep confidential the use of specialized or sensitive investigation techniques. But at the same time, I want you to know we recognize that these task forces are absolutely indispensable to what we do. And there’s no way we could do it without your officers.
So we want to make sure we find some middle ground that we’re all comfortable with, and I know that this process has taken a good deal of time and a lot of energy from a lot of people. But there are a lot of complicated considerations at stake, and we all want to make sure we get this right for everybody. The good news is that we’re talking about it. We’re getting it all out on the table, and I’m actually confident we’re going to find a way forward here.
My second pillar is partnership. I will say that one of the things that has jumped out at me the most since coming back to law enforcement two years ago is how much more invested today’s FBI is in our partners. In conversation after conversation, in field office after field office, I’m hearing my SACs and field office leaders say, “Wow, let me tell you how great our partners are. Let me tell you about this great thing we were able to do together with this department or that office.”
And I routinely, when I go to field offices, get briefings. And a lot of the time, maybe even most of the time, TFOs are actively participating, and in a lot of cases, even leading the briefings. If you went back 10 or 15 years ago when the FBI Director visited a field office, I doubt there would’ve been a TFO in the room, much less leading the briefing. And things like that speak volumes about the quality of the TFOs, your TFOs, that we have today and how we’ve changed the way we do business inside the FBI.
But having said that, we can’t afford to just pat ourselves on the back. We have to be looking at ways to move onward and upward. The way I look at it, over the past 20 years, we in this profession have moved from the era of turf battles to grudging deconfliction to willing deconfliction to enthusiastic collaboration to where we are now, I think, which is the era of all-out integration. One of our top execs likes to say, “Deconfliction is for losers. Integration is for winners.” We’ve got to push that foundation even further. We’ve got to get to a place where the collaboration and the partnership is so second nature that we don’t even stop to think about it anymore. You know the old saying: One team, one fight.
And I see examples of this almost daily. Just to pick one, just last week I visited the Miami Field Office, for I think the third time, and I was in the middle of thanking the different squads. And I noticed something that really struck me in a good way. On one Child Exploitation Task Force, there were more TFOs, more task force officers, than there were special agents. And everyone on that task force brings something different to the table. The TFOs were bringing years of investigative experience, and frankly, invaluable wisdom and life lessons, to share with some of our younger agents in the office.
And in return, our agents bring the Bureau’s tools, techniques, and authorities to chase the bad guys in ways that a lot of TFOs normally don’t have the opportunities to do. On other task forces, in might be other way around, there may be more agents than officers, and that might be what works best for that particular team. If so, great, but the point is, it’s not just enough to co-exist—we have to figure out ways to complement each other. We have to figure out ways to make sure that our two and your two add up to more than four, to make five, or six, or even seven. And I try to hammer that point home every chance I get inside the FBI with every kind of audience. Because the reality is that the threats we face today are too diverse, too dangerous, and too all-encompassing for any of us to tackle alone.
Take the threat of targeted violence and mass casualty incidents just as an example. When we first hear about one of those threats like that, no one today thinks, “Well that’s not our turf, not my job.” To the contrary, in community after community what you see is everyone racing to the scene as fast as we can, with every resource we got.
These attacks are resource-intensive, often with multiple crime scenes, countless victim and witness interviews, evidence processing, victim assistance, video canvassing and collection. They can be a massive drain on already limited resources at the state and local level. But we’re all in it together. And where there’s a federal nexus, we’re going to work with our state and local partners to find and prosecute those responsible. But even when there’s no federal nexus, we’re going to help in whatever way we can, taking on tasks, trying to share the load, and that’s the kind of all-out integration that we need to keep building on.
But we know that that kind of integrated response isn’t going to be enough. We also have to keep finding ways to work together with new partners to stop these attacks from happening in the first place. Our Crisis Intervention Teams now link law enforcement with mental health professionals to help get mentally ill, violent individuals the help they need, including involuntary mental health commitments for those who pose a danger to themselves or others. A model like CIT might be able to re-route somebody on a dangerous path to one of treatment and recovery instead. There are now about 3,500 CITs across the country, but there are about 18,000 federal, state, county, and local law enforcement agencies, and we want to keep growing this effort. And we want to thank you for what you’re doing to help us on this front.
So we got to keep building on these partnerships, but at the same time, we’ve got to work together in other ways—like taking care of our own, the men and women of law enforcement. I don’t know many people outside of law enforcement or the military who are willing to sacrifice their lives for complete strangers. And the willingness to get up and do that day after day after day is pretty extraordinary. It’s a simple fact that your lives are on the line because you put others before yourselves. But it’s another simple fact that we have lost far too many of our own through line-of-duty deaths and through suicide. We’re seeing this in law enforcement agencies all across the country, large and small.
Every officer, every deputy, every agent we lose is one too many. It’s a loss to our organizations, of course, it’s a loss to our community, and most importantly, it’s a devastating loss to the loved ones they leave behind. And each time, we’re all left thinking, is there something we could’ve done to prevent this? Our mission in law enforcement, of course, is simple—protect the public. But we’ve also got to do a better job of protecting each other, because our folks confront dangers on the job that most people can’t even fathom.
Our folks also face a heck of a lot of pressure and stress and have to process a lot of darkness, a lot of violence, a lot of depravity—and that doesn’t just disappear. It can stay with a person. It can start to cause anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. And the pressures of daily life can exacerbate those feelings. And I know that this affects a large number of departments sitting in this room, and the FBI is not immune either. We’ve had our own experiences with these tragedies. It’s so relevant, in fact, to what we’re all seeing that we hosted a special session on mental health and resiliency at our SAC conference, just this week.
This isn’t an issue that’s going to go away after one session or one meeting. It’s going to take a sustained effort from all of us. Some people, and I am not one of them, feel there’s a stigma around law enforcement officers who seek help for anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. We need to do what we can to eradicate that stigma, to get rid of the barriers that keep law enforcement officers from seeking mental health treatment when they need it. So we all need to keep looking out for each other. In my view, that’s what partners do. That’s what family does.
So process, partnership, you put those two together, you get the third—the brand. When I’m talking to folks in the FBI, I’m talking about the FBI brand. When you’re talking to your own folks, you’re talking about your own brand. But together we’re talking about the law enforcement brand—who we are, what we stand for, and how people perceive us, and how we want them to perceive us.
As leaders in law enforcement, you undoubtedly share moments of concern about your brand. As a profession, we face unlimited threats with limited resources. We face a lack of trust in some of the communities we serve. We face a whole lot of second guessing and criticism about the work we’re doing and the way we’re doing it. And there are times where we might find ourselves wondering why anybody would choose this life, because there are certainly a heck of a lot easier ways to earn a living. But the best way is to enhance the brand by drilling down on the work. I’m confident that you and all of your folks didn’t enter this profession to win accolades. And you sure as heck didn’t do it for the money. You did it because people need you, and you want to make a difference. That’s what you’re called to do. That’s what you’re sworn to do.
And what I tell my folks is that there’s no shortage of opinions out there about the FBI and about law enforcement, just like there’s no shortage of opinions out there about just about everything else on the planet these days. So we have to make sure we stay focused on the brand that matters the most. I’m talking about the opinions of the people who actually experience your department or your agency through your work, the people who actually count on you through you work. Those are informed opinions, based not on some comment or sound bite, but on one case at a time, one investigation at a time, one traffic stop at a time, one 911 call at a time, one compassionate gesture at a time. I’m talking about the opinions of jurors when one of your officers takes the stand. I’m talking about the judges who sign off on your search warrants and whether they believe in your officers’ abilities to gather the necessary evidence. I’m talking about prosecutors all around the country. Are they willing to put their reputation, their credibility, on the line based on your work? And most of all, I’m talking about the victims and their families, who need our help. Do they trust you to do the right thing? The opinions that truly matter come from people who know us, who work with us, who depend on us—judges, juries, our partners, victims, and their families.
And we can’t get distracted by the armchair critics because we’ve got to keep our eyes on the work that’s right in front of us. And what I see, from my vantage point, is men and women doing some pretty extraordinary, downright heroic stuff one day after another. I hear about it when I visit FBI field offices and I meet with either you or your task force officers. I hear about it from my SACs every week. I see it in the takedowns and the arrests and the investigations. I see it even in the awards that we give out each year. We have to keep working hard to make sure that we’re winning those hearts and minds, not just by doing our jobs, but by doing them in the right way.
If you think about the average person and their interaction with law enforcement, their whole perspective on who we are and what we stand for—our brand, if you will—might be defined by just one interaction or encounter, a traffic stop, a visit to a school, or a response to a call for help. And that one firsthand interaction with your officers or our agents is going to define what they think about law enforcement far more and last far longer than anything they see on television. But it’s not just about our day jobs. Their perspective might be defined by who we are even off the job. In Houston, during Hurricane Harvey, one of our agents piloted his own boat through the flood waters to rescue a family of 12. After Hurricane Maria, a group of our employees led an FBI-wide effort to collect 17,000 pounds of food and supplies to help victims in Puerto Rico.
But stories like this are not unique to the FBI. They’re found throughout law enforcement every single day. This past summer, officers with the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety were called to an elderly couple’s home for a medical emergency. And after they treated the patient, the officers noted that the couple’s wheelchair ramp was in very bad shape. And they elderly couple couldn’t afford to hire help. So those cops went out, got some supplies, and returned back to fix it themselves.
A month earlier, an officer from Cahokia, here in Illinois, pulled a young man over for having expired tags. Officer Roger Gemoules also discovered the man didn’t have a valid driver’s license, either. But when the officer found out that 22-year-old Ka’shawn Baldwin was trying to get to a job interview, he drove him to the job interview. Baldwin got the job, a package handler at FedEx, and today, he’s saving up to buy a car, and eventually, a home.
Another police officer, here in the Chicago suburbs, saw a homeless man trip over the worn out and broken rubber soles of his shoes. So he approaches the guy, and in the course of their conversation discovers that their shoes are the same size. So the officer took off the shoes from his own feet and gave them to the homeless man. Officer Brian Zagorski said, “I made a difference, and that’s essentially what we’re signed up to do, is to make a difference.”
These small, noble acts, on and off the job, are happening every day in this country. And those are the kinds of things that really define our brand for the people we serve and for everyone who’s watching. And that is the brand that matters the most. That’s the kind of brand that inspires folks to choose a life in law enforcement.
When I visited our Oklahoma City Field Office, I met with the mom of one of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, one of the nation’s worst terrorist attacks. A lot of you may remember somewhere along the way having seen an award-winning photograph from that attack of a firefighter holding a 1-year-old little girl who was murdered in that attack. Well, that baby, that murdered little girl, had a younger little sister, whose name is Bella. Bella, if you do some quick arithmetic, you’ll realize is now a young adult. Guess what Bella wants to do with her life and her career? She wants to work at the FBI. Because she believes in law enforcement, she knows us through our work. Through how we responded to that attack and how we dealt with the victims and their families. She believes in our brand. And given the choice between winning the hearts and minds of people like Bella in Oklahoma City, or the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, or the young man here in Illinois who probably looks at law enforcement in a whole new light now, versus listening to the constant negative chatter on social media or cable news, not a close call for me. And I hope it’s not for any of you.
So my fourth and final pillar is innovation. I keep trying to tell my folks that we’ve all got to be committed to making sure that we leave the FBI, each one of us, leaves the FBI even better than when we found it. And that means that on top of the daunting list of threats and challenges we face every day, we’ve also, somehow, got to find time to be asking ourselves, what’s the next big thing that we’re not doing right now? What’s the next big threat that we haven’t anticipated? What’s the next strategy we haven’t used? What’s the next technology we might need to be taking advantage of that we’re not yet? What’s the next partnership or way of partnering that we haven’t yet used? What’s the next skill set we need to be recruiting for? How do we best prepare ourselves for five, 10, 20 years down the road? We’ve got to keep finding new ways to work together, to keep being more efficient, more agile, and more resilient.
There’s lots of examples out there. I’ll just pick a couple. This past June, we established the Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell to address the intersection of a topic that’s very much on all of our minds, between domestic terrorism and hate crime. The fusion cell brings together experts from both our Criminal Investigative and Counterterrorism Divisions. And together, they’re making sure that we’re sharing information and resources in real time. That we’re focused not just on current attacks and threats but on what we haven’t yet anticipated and what we need to be trying to do to stop that.
Different example—we’re now standing up Counterintelligence Task Forces, much like the JTTFs you all know, in all 56 field offices to address the threat of malign foreign influence or interference. We already have about 40 federal agencies who’ve agreed to participate, and we’re asking state and local law enforcement agencies to join us in that effort.
Or pick a different example. We continue to push forward in making Rapid DNA technology a reality in the field. The idea is to be able to produce an accurate DNA profile and run it through CODIS to search unsolved crimes, all while the subject is still in custody during the booking process. Like you, we’re hopeful that it will lead to catching a lot more bad guys, solving a lot more crimes, and maybe—maybe—even closing an awful lot of those cold cases. We began testing Rapid DNA technology with CODIS last month, and we hope to be able to expand the technology to use Rapid DNA analysis on crime scenes before too long. We’ve started task force pilot projects with scientific and law enforcement partners to make that happen.
Those are just a couple pretty significant examples of innovation that will put all of us in a better position to meet new and emerging threats. We’ve got to keep it coming if we’re going to stay ahead of the curve. So bottom line, these are tumultuous times. There’s no doubt about it. But as Henry Ford once said, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” And I think Henry Ford knew a little something about process, about partnership, about brand, and about innovation.
And there are a lot of competing interests clamoring for our attention. We’ve got limited time, limited resources, and a whole lot of responsibilities. And the threats that we face may be the new normal for all of us. But we know the law enforcement family has the strength and resilience to weather just about any storm. And we’ve got to stay focused on keeping people safe and enforcing the rule of law. We’ve got to drill down on the work, tune out the noise and the armchair critics. We’ve got to keep our eyes on the future, finding new ways to work even more closely together. These are not easy asks by any means.
When I look around this room, I see folks who, together with their departments, are working day and night to keep people safe, folks who are doing the right thing in the right way, folks who are giving it their all, folks who demonstrate the kind of character that it takes to do a job where you’re putting your life on the line for complete strangers. That’s a pretty incredible brand to be a part of. So on behalf of the men and women of the FBI, thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your partnership and your friendship with the Bureau, and thank you for your continued dedication to the American people.