FBI Director Talks Partnerships with Sheriffs

Director Wray spoke with the sheriffs of the U.S.’s most populous counties about violent crime, extremism, border security, election security, and swatting

Director Wray speaks on a panel during the Major County Sheriffs of America 2024 Winter Conference in Washington, D.C., on February 9, 2024.
Director Wray speaks on a panel during the Major County Sheriffs of America 2024 Winter Conference in Washington, D.C., on February 9, 2024.

FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke with the sheriffs of the U.S.’s most populous counties about violent crime, extremism, border security, election security and swatting.

Director Wray met with the Major County Sheriffs of America during their 2024 Winter Conference on February 9 in Washington, D.C., to discuss threats facing law enforcement and strategies to address them.

Wray emphasized partnerships as the key to better protecting the American people. “Partnerships are how we leverage our respective strengths and capabilities,” he told the sheriffs.

The association includes the more than 100 sheriff's offices in counties or parishes with a population of 500,000 or more. Wray spoke with the group about violent crime, extremism, border security, election security and swatting.

Violent Crime

Though the surge in violent crime during the pandemic has leveled off or dropped in some places, Wray said, “it’s still higher than anyone in this room would like.” Partnerships have helped reduce it.

In western Pennsylvania last summer, the FBI and its partners arrested 58 members of a violent gang that trafficked fentanyl and methamphetamine. In the months after, violent crime dropped by 20% there.

In Los Angeles, the FBI and its partners targeted an organized crime syndicate that trafficked fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine across North America. Charges were brought against the Mexican-based suppliers, the Canada-based truck drivers, and the distributors in the United States.

FBI-led task forces are working cases like these nationwide, Wray said, and they include more than 6,000 officers from hundreds of departments and agencies, “including many from the departments represented in this room.”

And the Bureau doesn't take task force officers for granted, he added. With it comes security clearances; access to our systems, intelligence, and training; and contacts that allow for easier deconfliction and coordination.

Juvenile Crime

Calling the surge in juvenile crime “an alarming trend,” Wray said, “more and more we’re seeing some of the offenders responsible for some of the worst violence are minors.”

And this includes not just carjackings, shootings, and assaults, he continued, but many who are radicalized by foreign terrorist organizations or other extremists to commit violence.

“So, we’ve looked for ways to bring together law enforcement, community partners, mental health professionals, schools and social workers to deter juvenile offenders,” he said.

This multidisciplinary approach diverted at least two juveniles in Dallas who were “on dangerous paths toward carrying out shootings,” he said, but added he would still continue to press the Department of Justice and federal prosecutors to make criminal prosecutions an effective deterrent.

“There are repeat violent offenders who have to be held accountable, even if they’re minors,” he said.

Border Security

Threats that cross the border don’t stop there, Wray said. Dangerous drugs, like fentanyl, make it into our neighborhoods, as does the violence that follows drug and gang activity. 

Another concern is the increase in recent years of KSTs—known or suspected terrorists—who’ve attempted to enter the country, and the possibility that some KSTs won’t be caught at the border.

The seriousness of the KST threat stems from our border vulnerabilities, Wray said, and the heightened risk since October 7, 2023, of a terrorist attack, given “the rogue’s gallery of foreign terrorist organizations out there who are all calling for attacks.”

To address this threat, he said, the FBI is focusing on intelligence sharing, community outreach, and Joint Terrorism Task Forces building up their source networks.

“We’re also counting on the backstop of the 800,000 local officers with NCIC [National Crime Information Center] access to trigger a notification if a KST is encountered anywhere,” he added.

Election Security

On top of perennial threats, Director Wray said the election year presents its own challenges, including foreign adversaries seeking to undermine confidence in our elections and cyber threats.

Though Russia is often associated with election influence operations, he said, two Iranian nationals recently were indicted for an online campaign to interfere in the 2020 elections.

In April 2023, 34 officers from China’s Ministry of Public Security were also charged. Using fake social media accounts, they promoted divisive narratives, for instance, on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, portraying law enforcement as thuggish and racist.

The reality about our elections, Wray said, “is that advances in AI [artificial intelligence] are lowering the barrier for foreign actors to engage in efforts like this. It makes those efforts appear more realistic, which makes them more dangerous.”

The FBI, he said, has stepped up efforts with Intelligence Community partners to expose these foreign adversaries.

Turning to cyber threats, he said they ranged from system intrusions to theft and information leaks. Though voting machines garner the most attention, pre-election processes, like voter registration systems, are actually more vulnerable.

Spies and criminals want voters’ personally identifiable information so they can exploit it for various purposes, he said, but we’re working with election officials to harden that target.

Other threats, he added, included ballot and voter fraud, campaign finance violations and physical threats against election workers.

The good news is, thanks to extensive safeguards, he said attempts to compromise the election likely will not cause large-scale disruptions or prevent voting.

Even though you and other state and local partners have the lead for a lot of these issues, he told the sheriffs, the FBI wants to be a good partner. We’ll share intelligence and step in when a crime becomes a federal one.

He asked the sheriffs to get to know the election crime coordinators. Each FBI field office has two of these coordinators—a special agent and an intelligence analyst, respectively—who work closely with state and local officials, public and private sector partners, and others on election crime.


Director Wray concluded his talk with swatting, a crime “that seems to be growing all the time,” he said. To combat it, the FBI has prioritized providing resources and education.

In May 2023, a common operational picture was set up to track swatting and understand its characteristics. Today the group includes 700 members from 350 agencies, and more than 600 incidents have been tracked.

This was so we could improve training, he said. And since the first of year, the FBI has trained around 24,000. Beyond this, he added, we have to work toward imposing consequences because “the bad guys think they can get away with it.”

He cited a recent case where partners across several states worked together to arrest a “particularly prolific juvenile” and charge him as an adult. Eventually, the juvenile was arrested in Los Angeles and extradited to Florida where he is “now locked up," Wray said.

“Swatting incidents are expensive; they’re dangerous; and they put innocent people at risk,” Director Wray concluded, “and it’s going to take all of us working together to stop them.”

"Partnerships are how we leverage our respective strengths and capabilities."

FBI Director Christopher Wray