The Importance of Law Enforcement Partnerships in Combating Evolving Threats and Keeping Communities Safe
Remarks as delivered.
Great to be here with all of you. Last year was my first appearance at IACP, and I was still new to the job back then. Over the past year, I’ve gotten a good handle on the work of the FBI and the work you’re doing in your communities. And although I’ve always been inspired by the work of the FBI and the larger law enforcement community—including all of you here today—I’m even more inspired today.
After now visiting with 43 of our 56 field offices (and the rest by year-end), and meeting with law enforcement partners from something like 45 states, and more than 100 international partners, I’ve got an even deeper understanding of what you’re all up against, what you’re doing to help the people you serve, and what we need to do, together.
Just as importantly, I’ve got an even deeper understanding of who you are, as leaders and public servants. You’re tackling incredibly daunting work under tough circumstances, and you’re doing it well. Because you care about people. You care about your communities. And you’re determined to do everything you can to help others. That’s the true heart of law enforcement. And I’m humbled to be back part of it.
Today I want to focus on the threats we face. I want to talk about the work we’re doing—together—to address these threats. And I want to talk about the life everyone in this room has chosen and why it’s so important.
Let me turn to the threat landscape. When I left DOJ in 2005, the world was still a little back on its heels. We were facing threats we hadn’t imagined or foreseen. And we were doing our best to build our collective capabilities to fight those threats. Together, we’ve made a lot of progress. But when you look at the breadth and nature of the threats we’re facing today, you see how much has changed over the years—and not in a good way.
As you all know, in the years following 9/11, national security became the FBI’s top priority. And for many years, when we would meet with all of you, we’d inevitably say at some point, “Look, national security is our top priority, but we know it isn’t always your top priority.” And there was sometimes a bit of a divide between what we were doing and what you were doing.
That isn’t the case today. Because every threat we face impacts national security in some way. Terrorism, gang violence, espionage, hacking, opioid abuse, active shooters—these aren’t threats just for the feds or just for state and locals. They affect all of us to one degree or another.
I’ve made it a priority to visit every FBI field office by the end of the year. And we’re getting there, one by one. In every field office, when I meet with our state and local partners, I hear about the same significant challenges.
First, the opiate crisis. More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017—including prescription opioids and illicit drugs. And by all accounts, the problem is getting worse. We’ve got to work even better together to reduce the supply of drugs coming into our country from China and Mexico. This has become a national security issue that plays itself out on our streets every day.
Many of you continue to combat violent crime, from violent crime with a firearm, drug user-derivative crime and drug trafficking, to decentralized street gangs and homicides.
And in 2017 alone, there were 30 separate active shootings in the United States—the biggest number ever recorded by the FBI during a one-year period.
On the terrorist front, we have investigations in all 50 states. The homegrown violent extremist threat is the new normal, and it has created a new set of challenges: a much greater number of potential threats, each with far fewer “dots” to “connect” and much less time to prevent or disrupt an attack. These folks are largely radicalized online, and they’re inspired by the global jihadist movement.
We’re also keeping our eye on domestic terrorism, from people who come up with their own customized belief systems and hope to advance those beliefs through violence. Since 9/11, we’ve had nearly 100 domestic terrorism-related fatalities across the country. And they’re becoming more frequent. We had 12 fatalities in 2017 alone.
In the last year or so, working with all of you, we’ve made hundreds of arrests on terrorism charges: 120 international terrorism arrests and 175 domestic terrorism arrests. These arrests are all over the map, in cities big and small: Dearborn, Columbia, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Boston, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and Minneapolis.
The cyber threat continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and the more we shift to the Internet as the conduit and the repository for everything we use and share and manage, the more danger we’re in. Nation-state adversaries—China in particular—seek our trade secrets, our ideas, and our innovation. And they’re using an expanding set of non-traditional methods to pursue their goals, like cyber intrusions, foreign investment, corporate acquisitions, and supply chain threats.
You can’t put some of these threats neatly in the national security bucket and others in the state and local bucket. These are law enforcement threats; they are collective concerns.
If we think we have a drug epidemic now in this country, imagine how bad it will get if we have exponentially more opioids, fentanyl, and heroin on the market. A recent seizure from just one guy in China included enough fentanyl to impact half the population of the United States.
If a foreign adversary hacks into our power grid or our financial markets, we’ll all be dealing with the fallout.
If a terrorist strikes at a soft target in any one of our towns, we’ll all feel the reverberations.
Every company, every network, and every individual feels the impact of cyber crime, and everyone has something they don’t want to lose.
Violent crime can affect every neighborhood.
And as we’ve all seen, an active shooter can change someone’s world in an instant, in every community, large and small.
The seriousness of the threat in any one of these areas is unprecedented. But taken together, these threats cry out for an even more concerted level of collaboration.
We’ve been talking about partnerships and information sharing for a long time now. And there’s a reason for that. We need to stick together. We need to rely on each other for information, for experience and best practices, for new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems. So I won’t stand up here and talk about all the progress we’ve made in recent years. Don’t get me wrong—we’ve made great strides. But patting ourselves on the back for past successes won’t do us any good today. We’re looking to the future. How can we do more? How can we be better?
One of the things we’re focused on—collectively—is long-term strategy. For example, we’re working with the Major Cities Chiefs and the Major County Sheriffs to develop a comprehensive threat assessment, to help law enforcement leaders better identify, analyze, and prioritize the major threats facing their communities. This approach is modeled after the FBI’s own TRP—threat review and prioritization—which we’ve found allows us to better focus on the highest priorities in our field offices. We’re working together to help you drill down on the primary challenges you’re facing in your own communities, from violent crime, gangs, and drug trafficking to non-violent criminal violations, like property theft, which can take up a lot of time and resources.
When we have a full understanding of what we’re seeing in our communities, we can create a larger threat picture to really drive strategy and operations. We can have informed discussions about the threats we’re facing. But this isn’t the FBI’s information—it’s yours. So I hope you’ll share your TRP information with your local SAC. And I’ve asked my SACs here today to include you in their own TRP discussions moving forward.
We’re also making a concerted effort to host threat briefings for federal, state, and local partners. On September 11, at FBI Headquarters, we hosted an intelligence and information sharing meeting for more than 40 federal, state, and local partners. Leaders from the FBI and from partner agencies provided classified briefings on current and emerging threats, from terrorism, nation-state adversaries and cyber crime to active shooter and school threats. After the briefings, the group talked—openly and honestly—about what we’re facing and how we can help each other. And just this week, we brought together all of our SACs with the Major Cities Chiefs Association for a joint threat briefing.
These efforts—formal and informal—need to become commonplace, unremarkable. They need to become so routine, so second nature, that we don’t even think about them. We all need a full understanding of the collective threats we face. Because we’re standing in front of a tidal wave of trouble, and we need every resource, every bit of knowledge and experience, and every relationship we’ve got, to do our jobs and to do them well. Now, some of you may be asking, “How can we get in on those threat briefings?” We’re working on expanding those efforts because we know how important it is for all of us to have that 360-degree understanding. But in the interim, don’t hesitate to reach out to the SAC in your jurisdiction to talk about what you’re seeing, what you need help with, and we’ll do the same on our end. Because at the end of the day, that personal relationship—that one-on-one friendship—is better than any intel briefing.
We’re also working with the Major Cities Chiefs to develop a joint strategy to reduce violent crime and homicide. We’re identifying successful programs and best practices from law enforcement leaders and agencies across the country. The FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement has visited several cities, including Milwaukee, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and New Orleans, to talk about what’s working, and what’s not. More visits are on the horizon.
We’re focusing our efforts in a few areas, like the need to be aggressive in prosecuting violent crime and homicide offenders, and to find a balance between long-term enterprise prosecutions and “quick hit” ones targeting the worst offenders. The need for strong leadership in law enforcement—leaders who recognize the dynamics driving violent crime and homicide. The need to make the best and highest use of limited resources. The need to share information in real time. And the need to identify best practices and new ways of looking at old problems, and to share those with other law enforcement leaders across the country so that we’re all using the strongest tools we can.
We’re also trying to find new ways to identify and stop active shooters. On June 27, we hosted the School Safety Summit at FBI Headquarters. We were just the host for the event. Our state and local partners determined the agenda, the presenters, the subject matter experts, and who should attend. The group talked about warning signs for troubled students, school crisis response plans, how to harden soft targets—especially our schools—and better ways to share information. We want to serve as a resource for you in any way we can, and unfortunately, the threat of active shooters isn’t going away anytime soon. So we all need to bring everything we’ve got to the table, to ensure the safety of our people—particularly our kids.
A big part of strengthening our partnerships is in improving the way we share information. On the fusion center front, we’ve joined the National Fusion Center Association to find new ways to share as much information as possible between fusion centers and the JTTFs. And to make sure that we’re on the same page when it comes to understanding the terrorism threat and the changing threat landscape. We’re increasingly co-locating FBI and fusion center personnel and helping more fusion center analysts obtain security clearances so they can share classified information.
Another way we’re improving information sharing is through the eGuardian process. After the Parkland tragedy, we took a hard look at what happened, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Because the American people expect us to get it right the first time. They deserve that from us. So we’re working to make eGuardian the intake mechanism for all threats of violence on both the national security and criminal sides of the house—a single system into which your agencies and local emergency call centers can push information and ensure maximum visibility among law enforcement partners.
And when we receive violent threat information without a federal nexus through our Public Access Line or our website, we’ll use eGuardian to pass those leads along to the appropriate state or local agency, fusion center, or field office for action. We’re still working out the technical details and the official roll-out. But this new process will shorten the time between our receipt of a lead and passing that information to you. But what it really means is violence prevented and lives saved.
I want to turn to data collection for a moment. And try not to use the words “data collection” as an excuse to take a brief nap. On the first day of 2021, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program will make the transition to a NIBRS-only data collection. I know that seems far away, but those of you who have been on this journey with us for the past few years know that it isn’t actually much time. NIBRS data will provide greater context at the national level to allow the FBI and its contributing agencies to identify and address evolving crime issues.
I want to personally thank those law enforcement agencies that have made this transition. And I’m grateful to those of you who have committed to transitioning by the 2021 deadline. We want to make this as painless as possible. We’re offering funding where we can, along with the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And we’re offering onsite training and computer-based tutorials, to get agencies comfortable with NIBRS.
I also want to thank you for helping us push for collecting use-of-force statistics on officer-involved incidents at the local, state, tribal, and federal levels. I know you understand the importance of collecting and sharing police use-of-force data. The National Use-of-Force Data Collection encourages law enforcement agencies to voluntarily report use-of-force data. The great news is that OMB approved the nationwide collection on September 5. We’re anticipating an official launch on January 1.
Approximately 4,000 law enforcement agencies are currently enrolled. And of those, approximately 500 are already submitting data. Enrolling is a good first step, but it means nothing without the data. So we’re encouraging all the agencies that enrolled to submit their data. More accurate and reliable data is something we all want to shape our understanding of the issues. So this is a good step forward.
Together, we’ve all been searching for new ways to approach the opioid crisis. From joint task forces targeting the distribution of these drugs, to a shared focus on the prevention of overdose deaths—which hasn’t been a historical focus for law enforcement. We all see the benefit in the growing interaction among law enforcement and the public health and mental health sectors. Working together in this fight is crucial, because we just don’t have the resources to go it alone. It’s going to require a whole-of-society approach.
On the cyber front, we’re trying to find new ways to maximize all of our resources, and to make the most of our collective experience. We’re working with our partners to triage cyber investigations at the local level. Operation Wellspring began in Utah as a partnership between the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office and the Utah Department of Public Safety. We knew the FBI didn’t have the resources to address emerging cyber crime at the state and local level, and there were cases that were not being investigated. So our Salt Lake Field Office and the Utah Department of Public Safety created a program to address cyber crime together, by integrating public safety personnel into our Salt Lake Joint Cyber Task Force.
Today, there are public safety task force officers working cyber-criminal intrusions and Internet fraud matters right alongside their FBI counterparts. They’re sharing investigative techniques and best practices, and learning from each other. The task force has disrupted a number of cyber-criminal organizations. The model has worked so well in Salt Lake that we’re mirroring it in several other field offices. Again, we keep looking for better and better ways to help you with the threats you’re facing, wherever we can.
But we’re not just focused on finding and stopping the bad guys. We’re focused on helping the victims they leave behind. There’s a simple truth we’ve come to know in the FBI: law enforcement officers interact with victims more often than any other professionals. The assistance you provide is critical. Your officers and deputies may be the only contact that victims ever have with the criminal justice system, and the only opportunity to be linked to the services necessary to begin their healing and recovery.
That’s not just the right way to treat a victim—it’s the best way, for all of us. Because victims who are treated with professionalism and compassion, and who are getting the help they need, are more likely to help us with investigations and prosecutions.
About a year ago, the FBI’s Victim Services Division started a partnership with state, local, university, and tribal law enforcement agencies to improve their interactions with victims of crime. The program is called Elevate, and it provides practical tools to law enforcement to develop or enhance their own victim services capacity. We link agencies across the country with mentors and coaches who have developed effective victim services programs, so that we can model best practices and new ways of thinking. We have a lot to learn from each other.
Over the past year, I’ve noticed a few bureaucratic words creeping back into my vocabulary. Words like “robust” and “seamless.” Words that normal people never use in real life. “Force multiplier” is another one of those words—although at least that one is rooted in military terminology, so it isn’t just “consultant speak.” But I was trying to come up with a better phrase, and I just kept coming back to “greater than the sum of our parts.” We’re pretty good on our own—and by that, I mean each of us. You’re doing great work in your communities. And I’m seeing the great work that the men and women of the FBI are doing all over the country. But together, we’re greater than the sum of our parts. We’ve worked hard to get here over the years. We’re in a new place now, and we’ve got to keep moving forward.
The past few years haven’t been an easy time in law enforcement. We face incredible challenges. From dangerous and diverse threats to our communities and our country to budget constraints, a lack of resources, recruiting challenges, and tension with some of the communities we serve. We’re all trying to grow our ranks, to attract new people and fresh perspectives to careers in law enforcement. But this isn’t always the easiest job to sell.
Our officers, deputies, and agents face long hours, low pay, and grave danger. There’s a great deal of criticism of the work we do, and it can sometimes seem like law enforcement is a thankless job. One for which too many good men and women have paid the ultimate price. This year, we’ve lost 43 law enforcement officers to adversarial gunfire, an increase of approximately 16 percent over this time last year.
Any reported increase is of concern, but the simple fact is that every officer, every deputy, and every agent we lose is one too many. It’s a loss to our organizations, a loss to our communities, and most importantly, it’s a devastating loss to the loved ones they leave behind.
Last weekend, two police officers from the Brookhaven (Mississippi) Police Department were shot and killed while responding to reports of shots fired. Patrolman James White was 35; Corporal Zach Moak was 31. The Brookhaven PD is a 38-person department. And while the loss of life wouldn’t be any less devastating to a major metropolitan police department, the impact is even more real for such a small department. Because everyone in the Brookhaven PD knew Patrolman White and Corporal Moak.
And as you all know, on Wednesday night, Officer Terrence Carraway—a 30-year veteran of the Florence (South Carolina) Police Department—was shot and killed in an ambush. Six other officers were injured in that attack.
I’ve made it a priority to reach out to every chief and every sheriff when they lose one of their own this way. Because your loss is our loss. And we want you to know we stand with you in your sorrow.
I also want to take a moment to recognize the 9/11 first responders we’ve lost this year, and all those who are battling illness right now. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, thousands of first responders worked day and night, week after week, month after month. And we’re only now beginning to understand—and witness—the long-term effects of that work, and the full extent of the sacrifices they made, for the American people.
In the face of all these challenges—and then some—we’ve got to grow our ranks. We’ve got to keep attracting great young people to law enforcement. We need the best of the best to do what we need to do. Because we get the opportunity—every day—to help people. To make their lives a little safer, a little easier. To make our communities a little stronger and better.
But it takes hard work, it takes high energy, and it takes true dedication. Sometimes it begs the question: Why would anyone choose this life? When I talk to new agents at their graduation from the FBI Academy in Quantico, I always end with the same words. I remind them that there will be good days and tough days—days when they’re tested to their limits. I tell them on those days to remember that they don’t have ordinary jobs—that law enforcement is a calling. I ask them to remember that they chose—and earned—this job. That they chose—and earned—the privilege of serving this country. I ask them to take care of each other. And to move forward together: heads up, eyes forward, shoulder-to-shoulder.
And I think those same words are more than fitting here. Our jobs seem to be getting more daunting each day. And there are lots of days when you think there’s got to be an easier way to make a living. And there are of course lots of easier ways. But there aren’t any better ways to make a living. I’m so thankful we’re in this together—that we have each other to lean on and to learn from. In the days, weeks, and months to come, we’ll keep at it. Tune out the noise, the chatter, and the armchair critics. Focus on the work, and the people we do the work for. Heads up, eyes forward, shoulder-to-shoulder. We’ll forge ahead—together. I’m grateful to have the chance to see so many of you again all in one place, and I look forward to working with you.