Using Partnerships and Data to Protect our Communities
Remarks as delivered.
Thank you, Mr. Young, for that kind introduction, and thanks to everyone at NOBLE for the invitation to speak today.
It’s an honor to be here today. I know you probably feel the same way I do, which is that while I've kind of reluctantly gotten used to all these virtual meetings, there's just no substitute for actually being able to get together in person.
And so today is a great opportunity for me to be able to reinforce the FBI’s commitment to partnering with law enforcement at every level. Those partnerships are the key to success for all of our organizations, and conferences like this one give us the chance to discuss these issues that we’re all facing, so together we can come up with solutions.
Threats to HBCUs, Churches, and Other Institutions
First, I want to spend just a little time this morning discussing a topic that I know is important to all of us. That’s the series of bomb threats we’ve seen this year targeting HBCUs, targeting historically black colleges and universities, as well as houses of worship all across the country.
To threaten an academic or religious institution, to instill fear in the hearts of individuals who just want to feel safe to teach, to learn, or to
worship, to me, that is simply reprehensible.
Director Addresses Black Law Enforcement Leaders
In a speech at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray discussed violent crime reduction efforts and law enforcement data collections.
And I can assure you, as I hope you’ve already heard loud and clear, that we are investigating these threats as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes.
One of the first threats that we learned about in this recent stream was on January 4, when local partners informed our New Orleans Field Office of a phoned-in bomb threat to Xavier University, only about an hour from here. In the days and weeks that followed, nearly 60 historically black colleges and universities, churches, and other institutions received similar threats.
Today, our investigation is nationwide. More than 30 FBI field offices are involved, and we’re devoting significant resources across those field offices to pursuing these threats. Based on our investigation and incident response so far, we have not seen evidence that any of the callers have actually deployed explosives. But that does not in any way diminish our resolve to identify those responsible and hold them accountable. And you’ll be hearing more about the work we’re doing from members of my team later today.
We understand the fear these kinds of threats inspire in a community and the chilling effect they can have on people who need, want, and deserve safe places to work, learn, and worship. So we’re working hard with our partners across federal, state, and local law enforcement, and academia and faith-based communities. And we remain committed to doggedly and diligently pursuing these threats.
Rise in Violent Crime
Now I’d like to shift to another issue, an issue that’s been trending for a couple of years now, which is the disturbing rise in violent crime. And I can tell you that we’re seeing the same thing you’re seeing. That is that the violent crime surge across our country is real, and it’s growing. Gun violence, homicides, aggravated assaults, are all occurring at an appalling rate. Not to mention hate crimes and the persistent threat posed by violent extremists, whether radicalized by foreign groups like ISIS, or motivated by some anti-government, anti-authority ideology, or some personalized combination of grievances.
If anybody needed proof, which nobody in this room does because you're living it every day, late last year, we released our detailed crime data for 2020. And the numbers were troubling, and that's a probably an understatement. Overall violent crime, which includes not only murder, but assault, robbery, and rape, rose by more than 5%.
Now, let me pause for a second because I sometimes think “5%” doesn't really capture it. Five percent means more than 65,000 additional violent crime incidents in 2020 than there were in 2019. That’s 65,000 more individuals, more human beings victimized by violent crime than the year before. And each one, as we all know, with families and heartbreak and trauma. Five percent.
Homicides? Homicides, those jumped nearly 30% in 2020—which is the largest single-year increase ever recorded. So there’s no doubt that today’s violent crime situation is hellishly challenging. And for the Americans actually caught up in the crosshairs of this surge in violent crime, it’s just plain hell.
Now I realize that I’m preaching to the choir. Because we all know that—at all levels of government—our most fundamental duty is to safeguard people’s right to live without fear of violence. And I can assure you that we at the FBI are using all of our tools and working strategically with agencies like yours to meet that duty.
For instance, right here in Louisiana we’re stepping up our collaboration with federal, state, and local partners. Last month saw the announcement of a massive joint effort to combat the spike in violent crime plaguing New Orleans. We’ve got a comprehensive strategy in place to corral all of our collective efforts, capabilities, and authorities, those of our federal partners, like ATF, DEA, DHS, the Marshals, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as well as the Louisiana State Police, the New Orleans PD, the DA’s office, and others.
So we can combat the city’s surge in crime together and achieve long-term results. We’re focusing our investigations on the most violent offenders and gangs, with the aim of getting the worst criminals off the streets. We’re coordinating and deconflicting with each other every day, sharing analytical and investigative resources among our agencies. And we’re focusing on proactive engagement with the citizens of New Orleans, working closely with the community to guide our activity, develop sources, and generate leads, so we can bring violent criminals to justice and make the city’s streets safer.
Our primary model for fighting violent crime remains our task forces. Throughout the country we're bringing to bear:
- More than 50 Violent Crime Task Forces
- 175 Safe Streets Gang Task Forces, with nearly 2,000 TFOs, nearly 2,000 Task Force Officers
- 23 Safe Trails Task Forces
- More than 100 Transnational Organized Crime Task Forces, with 600 members.
On top of all of those kinds of task forces, for some of the cities hit hardest by the recent surge, we’re supplementing those efforts by sending new Violent Crime Rapid Deployment Teams. These are teams of agents and analysts who review intelligence and work with local partners to develop investigative strategies. And they work through our field offices to get linked up with our state and local partners, agencies and departments like yours, to support cases that’ll have the most significant impact on violent crime.
We’re analyzing our data to identify areas that seem to be feeding crime in major metropolitan areas or regions, places like Buffalo, Memphis, Louisville, Milwaukee, and we’re sending our teams there. We recognize that this is not a one size fits all, that each community has its own challenges and threat drivers. So our teams work with yours to tailor strategies to each specific geographic location.
Depending on where they are, they might be focusing on helping to get particularly violent gun offenders off the streets, or targeting commercial robbery crews, or taking aim at violent, drug-trafficking gangs. We’re going to keep surging resources like that. Our goal, our goal is to help make a sustainable impact, not only on the cities, but on their entire regions, so our communities are safer places to live and work.
Data Collection Programs
Now all of these efforts are data-driven. At the FBI, we've come to rely on intelligence, not just in things like our counterintelligence or counterterrorism programs, but really in everything that we do.
So with violent crime, for example, it’s absolutely essential that we keep our eye on the trends. To do that, we need concrete information and transparency into what’s really going on in our communities—accurate, objective data, facts. The great news is that we've now transitioned to NIBRS, the National Incident-Based Reporting System, which will allow the FBI can provide more detailed and comprehensive, more useful crime data.
Now NIBRS-only reporting has been up and running for over a year, and we’ve got more than 11,000 law enforcement agencies, which is about 61 percent of the nation's law enforcement agencies, now reporting their data. And I want to thank everyone who’s participating, but we can do better. We need to do better. If your department isn’t yet contributing NIBRS-certified data yet, I strongly, strongly encourage you to do so.
We know that making that switch can be a challenge, but we’re here to help you. The Bureau’s investing, and is going to keep investing, in training and tools to help your departments make the transition to NIBRS. So if you have questions or need help getting us your data, please contact my team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because we need that information to get the most complete nationwide picture of things like hate crimes, things like assaults on law enforcement officers. Because if you're not NIBRS-certified, you can't contribute that kind of data. And we need that data, we need your information so our agencies, and the public we serve, can understand the issues we’re all facing and make the best possible decisions, so that we’re able to point to the actual data instead of the punditry.
The same thing goes for our National Use-of-Force Data Collection, also a big, top priority for us. Our goal there is not to be offering insight into individual, specific incidents. It’s to provide a comprehensive view of the circumstances, the subjects, and the officers involved in use-of-force incidents nationwide.
And I’m extremely pleased to report that we just hit our long-awaited participation threshold last month. So we’ve now got 60% of law enforcement agencies contributing data. That's a big deal because it's voluntary. And we need to get to those participation thresholds to be able to start sharing information. So that 60% threshold means that in the very near future, we're going to be able to release our first statistics on the use-of-force, things like the top types of force used and resistance encountered, things like the overall percentages we’re seeing for kinds of incidents and the reasons for initial contact.
The next goal we want to get to 80%. Because once we get to the 80% mark, we’ll be able to share even more data and insight into use-of-force incidents. And we can give the public the necessary facts, and I believe, strengthen our nation’s confidence in law enforcement.
Because as we all know, if we don’t provide the data and the context, there are plenty of others out there who may try to paint a very different picture, using their own information and their own context or spin. So to get that accurate picture, it's important that you report your agencies' data, even if you don't have any qualifying use-of-force incidents. I think that's a point that sometimes gets lost. Even if you didn't have any, a zero report not only counts toward us getting to that 80% that we all want us to, that participation level. But it also helps more accurately show what is, and importantly, what is not, happening out there. So getting this right depends on you and the data your agencies and departments provide. So if you're not yet submitting use of force statistics, we really need you to do it.
Now another data collection program I want to tell you about today is a new one. And it’s one that can be sometimes be kind of difficult to talk about. This year, for the first time, we started collecting data on law enforcement suicides and attempted suicides. And 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.
And 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 just can’t do that properly without greater insight into what’s really going on out there. And I firmly believe that this data is going to be vital for all of us, as we continue making the physical and mental health of our people a priority.
Threats to Law Enforcement
That brings me to a topic that is of paramount importance to me, and I know it is to you, too, which is threats to law enforcement. As you well know, things are becoming more and more dangerous for the men and women sworn to protect and serve our communities. Last year, 73 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty, that is the highest single-year number since 9/11.
And that doesn’t even count all those we lost to COVID or in accidental deaths, like vehicle pursuits, or all those who were badly injured, but thankfully, survived. And especially troubling is that a record number of those officers killed—nearly half—had no engagement with their assailant before the attack. That means they were ambushed while sitting in their vehicles, attacked while on patrol, or lured out into the open and killed.
So far, in 2022, 11 more officers have been murdered in the line of duty already. That's about one a week. Now every time an officer is feloniously killed in the line of duty, anywhere in the country, I ask my team for a photo of the officer. I read about his or her family and how long they served. And I call the chief or the sheriff or the commissioner. And on behalf of the entire FBI, I express our condolences and support.
And one of the calls I made at the end of last year was to Commissioner Mike Harrison to share our sympathy for Officer Keona Holley, who was a Baltimore City police officer, ambushed and killed while sitting alone in her patrol car. Officer Holley was a young, Black mother of four from Baltimore. And as I learned more about Officer Holley, I was struck by how she described, in her own words, what called her to a career in service to her community.
In an interview I read, when she was just a trainee, Officer Holley said, and I quote, "This is my home. And the community is hurting. Our crime level is so high. The community needs officers that are not just here for a paycheck, they're here because they care."
Officer Holley was concerned about how law enforcement was being perceived. And she wanted to help fix it. And she said, "I feel like Baltimore City police officers have a bad name about themselves, and we have to change that and change it together." What Officer Holley articulated so well is what I know motivates hundreds of thousands of officers across the country. And I suspect it's what drives everybody in this room as well. And that's a desire to make our communities better and safer and to serve as a model for others of what true service and sacrifice is all about.
These are tough times in our profession. And every chance I get, I try to remind the public, members of Congress and others, really anybody who will listen, about the dedication and bravery that you and your people, the men and women of law enforcement, show every day, as they serve our communities. I honestly believe there is no higher calling than that, no better work than that. So I want to thank you for choosing and devoting yourselves to that work. And I want to thank your deputies and officers for choosing it, too.
So thanks again for your leadership, for your partnership with us at the FBI, and really for all you do for the American people. It's an honor to serve along side you. Thank you.