Director Wray NOBLE Speech

During a July 24, 2023, address to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives' Annual Training Conference & Exhibition, FBI Director Christopher Wray discussed how the Bureau's law enforcement partnerships help us counter threats like violent crime, counterterrorism, drugs, and cybercrime; encouraged partners to share more data with the Bureau; and asked them to prioritize officer mental health and wellness.

Video Transcript

All right. Well, thank you, Brenda. Thank you all for having me here this morning. It is great to be here in Cleveland and I don't say that lightly. Our FBI Agents Association just decided to host their biannual conference in Phoenix last week. Phoenix, as you may know, is having a record heat wave. So I'm not sure whether they saved money on that choice or what. But but in all seriousness, it's particularly great to be here with all of you with so many of our closest partners. And I think that the theme that you've chosen for your conference this year, Stronger Together, is especially timely, not because partnerships haven't always been important, they certainly have, but because, at least from where I sit, it would be nearly impossible to overstate just how critical partnerships are to really everything we do in today's threat environment.

You could go right on down the line, take violent crime, whether it's gangs terrorizing communities, robbery crews graduating from carjackings to even worse violence, or neighborhoods along key drug trafficking routes being inundated with crime. The drivers from place to place are varied and at times hard to pinpoint. But what is clear is that the best way, really the only way to effectively tackle the violent crime problem is the same across the board. And that's by working together, leveraging our collective strengths, resources and authorities to better protect our communities. Our FBI led task forces are an essential tool to combating violent crime, and those, of course, are made up of and led by folks like all of you. We now have more than 5000 task force officers from hundreds of different departments and agencies across the country focused on fighting violent crime. And when you and your counterparts entrust your outstanding officers, deputies and investigators to serve on our task forces, I know it's not because you don't have enough work to go around in your own departments. Lord knows that's not the case. It's because you see the value of the impact we can have when we work together and working shoulder to shoulder with your folks through those task forces, we are having an impact. Last year alone, we arrested 20,000 violent criminals and child predators. That's almost 60 bad guys were taken off the streets per day, every day. We seized more than 9600 firearms from those violent offenders and cut into the capabilities of 3500 gangs and violent criminal enterprises and completely dismantled 370 more of those gangs and criminal enterprises.

Partnerships are also key to our collective efforts to combat the scourge of fentanyl and other dangerous drugs that claim far too many lives in our communities nationwide. Working together, we're running well over 300 investigations targeting the leadership of the cartels, trafficking dangerous drugs into this country. This year alone, this year alone, we've already seized hundreds of kilos of fentanyl, stopping deadly drugs from reaching their intended destinations in states across the U.S. and saving countless American lives. We're working with CBP to advance border related investigations to further disrupt the supply chain. We're leading the JCODE Task force to help our partners disrupt and dismantle Darknet drug traffickers. And we're actively participating on 17 OCDETF strike forces throughout the country. But numbers don't tell the whole story to truly appreciate the impact we're having. Again, together, you got to look at the cases. Right here in Cleveland for instance, the Cleveland Strike Force made up of a whole slew of state and federal partners, recently took down a transnational drug trafficking organization that was delivering fentanyl and other drugs across the country by the truckload. This group associated with the Sinaloa cartel was sending trucks laden with drugs from California to Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, with those trucks then returning to California full of illicit cash. In this one case, we seized about 30 kilograms of fentanyl. That's enough lethal doses to kill more than the entire population of Ohio. As you all know better than most, these kinds of fentanyl seizures are happening with alarming and increasing frequency all over the country.

On the counterterrorism front, too, the threat has evolved in ways that demand even stronger partnerships between the FBI and state and local departments, like the ones that so many of you in this room represent. For years now, folks have heard me say that the greatest counterterrorism threat we face in the U.S. is posed by what are, in effect, lone actors. That includes both what we call homegrown violent extremists, individuals largely global jihad inspired and domestic violent extremists, people who commit violence in furtherance of what's often a mix of domestic issues and ideologies like racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, anti-government and anti authority, violent extremists. But both of these kinds of lone actors, the HVEs, the homegrown violence extremists and the DVEs and the domestic violent extremists are quite different from the coordinated terrorist cells that many of us remember from the 911 era. And because these violent extremists act alone, or maybe with only one or two others and they move so quickly from radicalization to action, they don't leave a whole lot of dots for law enforcement to connect or a whole lot of time for us to connect. And to make matters worse, we often see them using easily obtainable weapons like a firearm, a knife, a crude IED, or even something like a car against soft targets, which, of course, is just intelligence community speak for everyday people living their everyday lives. In other words, we're seeing these attackers gravitate towards weapons that are easy to obtain but hard to trace and targets that are not difficult to attack, but pretty challenging to defend. And as you know all too well, we're seeing angry, disaffected people. Think about the guy living in his parents basement–not that there's anything wrong with that–but who's got nothing but time on his hands and who can easily find like minded individuals in other basements online, clear across the country or even across the globe who provide a sense of community and validation that didn't exist before. In a sense, social media serves as a kind of accelerant, facilitating access to propaganda and training materials and providing a means for recruitment, target selection, incitement, and even operational planning.

I say all of that because those realities in today's threat landscape place an even greater premium on our work with your folks, the people who know their communities like the back of their hands and serve on the front lines, if you will, as the eyes and ears in the fight against terrorism. What about the cyber threat? Almost every week now, the news features some large scale globe spanning operation and takedown. And we're proud of those, to be sure. But the cyber threat can't be adequately addressed without collaboration across all levels of law enforcement, which is why we've set up cyber task forces in all 56 of our field offices, a lot like the Joint Terrorism Task Forces you're familiar with, and that your folks may have been a part of for quite some time now. The task force model allows us to share information more quickly, surge resources where they're most needed and collaborate with our partners more effectively. And these task forces not only serve as a powerful way for us to collaborate and work cases together, but also have the benefit of helping our teams share expertise and develop skills that can help us all address the growing cyber problem going forward. And that is critical for a couple of reasons. For starters. We all know first hand that we're stronger and more effective when we're working together. There's the theme of your conference again. These cyber task forces facilitate quicker information sharing on the cyber threat, really just mirroring the successes that we've seen from our joint terrorism task forces for more than 20 years now. But these task forces also give us an opportunity to enhance everybody's ability to combat what I might call sort of middle market cyber crime. I use that term because what we're finding is that more and more state and local law enforcement agencies like those you represent are getting pretty good at handling a lot of cyber crime in your local AORs.

And then on the other end, we at the FBI are, I think, pretty well known for tackling some of the most complex intrusions sets that may require specialized expertise or expensive technology to comprehensively investigate. But what I think we're missing as a country, as a profession, is that piece in the middle. Those cyber investigations that do require some level of specialized knowledge, training and skills that the FBI has, but that don't meet the threshold for federal prosecution for whatever reason. So in my mind, one of the key benefits of the cyber task forces is that the state and local task force officers who participate in them learn by doing. Working alongside our cyber trained agents to develop the expertise to handle these kinds of cases themselves so that when they go back to their department, to your departments, they can help us all better fill that gap in the middle. Because ultimately our goal is not only to increase the number of trained cyber agents in state and local law enforcement agencies all across the country, but also to enhance law enforcement's overall capacity to address cybercrime across the board, which is, of course, good for everybody. Bottom line, with all of those different threats that I just listed off and really all the threats we face, I could not agree more that we're stronger together. And while there is certainly a lot more work to be done, I'm proud of what we've accomplished thus far, working together towards our shared goal of keeping people safe.

Before I close this morning, I want to make a point or two about another key way we maximize our impact, and that's with data making sure we've got the right data and putting it to good use at the FBI. Crime reporting is something we're constantly working to improve. Our annual crime statistics for 2021, for instance, confirmed something that all of you know firsthand, which is that after a big jump in 2020, the number of violent crimes, including murders, remained alarmingly high in 2021. Now we're working on compiling the 2022 report for release in a few months so that we can understand what's going on and tailor resources based on the data. But I know from talking and working with you that the violent crime problem certainly hadn't gone away in 2023. It's been two years since the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program-or UCR-transitioned to having data reported exclusively through NIBRS. And we've made a lot of progress in terms of participation. Every state plus Guam is now in the cyber-certified. As you may have heard me say before, that's the good news. The not so good news is that with the transition to NIBRS only reporting, we had a 22% drop in enrolled agencies that actually provided reporting. That meant we had gaps, gaps that we're working hard to rectify in our next data set. But with more antiquated SRS, or summary reporting system data. Now, you should not interpret the use of limited SRS data for 2022 as some kind of retreat from our transition to NIBRS. We're full speed ahead with NIBRS. We're only using that SRS data as a temporary way to help bridge the gap because of the momentum that we've built towards completing the NIBRS transition. What we really need to do now is get everybody on board. Fortunately, as of 2022, 13,490 law enforcement agencies, that's more than 71% are now enrolled in NIBRS. And we're on track to surpass those numbers and continue doing better for 2023. But we need everybody not only enrolled but actually participating and reporting data through NIBRS, because it's the data from all of your agencies and departments that makes the reporting useful and valuable. NIBRS helps answer a lot of questions about individual incidents, about trends, about offender relationships, and a whole lot more. It can also help us determine where best to deploy our already stretched and scarce resources. I know I don't need to tell this group that law enforcement resources and manpower are not infinite, But armed with data, we've got a much better idea of where our resources are needed the most. So ultimately, by contributing data through NIBRS, you're not just helping us, you're helping and supporting every other chief and sheriff across the country and all the citizens they serve. Now, I understand these kinds of transitions can be challenging and take time and resources and dedicated effort from your departments and agencies, resources that, as I said, are already stretched and scarce. So wherever we can assist with the transition, we are happy to help. Just one more thing I want to mention before I close. The key to everything we do in law enforcement is our people, the brave men and women of law enforcement who devote their careers, their lives, really, to helping others. And as all of you know firsthand, often an enormous personal sacrifice. Now, there any number of important topics we could talk about when it comes to our people. And I know that many of them were covered over the course of your conference, whether it's doing everything we can to recruit and retain that special kind of person willing to give his or her life to protect others, or ensuring that our workforces reflect all the communities we serve, a value that's well reflected in your mission to ensure equity in the administration of justice, and one we're constantly striving to achieve at the Bureau as well. Any one of those topics could fill an entire speech, really an entire conference, really. But in the few minutes I have left. I want to touch on a topic that has become increasingly important to me in my time as FBI director, and that's the health and wellness of our people within the FBI. I've been asking our leaders to purposefully foster an environment where it's okay to admit to not being okay. To make it okay to ask for help, because I would argue that you're a stronger person if you can recognize the stress of the job and process it rather than ignore it and bury it. And I would ask you to do the same as so many of your workshop leaders have discussed here this week. Set the example when the stress and the grind of your day jobs take hold again. Take care of yourself too. This is a lot more than some kind of bumper sticker or talking point for us in the bureau as part of our work to understand and protect all of our nation's law enforcement officers. I've asked our folks in CJIS those same folks who run NIBRS, just start collecting data on the instances when officers attempt to take their own lives.

We started collecting data on law enforcement suicides in 2022, but it was limited to 22 agencies reporting nationwide, with 32 suicides and nine attempts. Now, that’s a problem. We're going to need a lot more data on if we're going to really understand and change what's happening in our profession. So I would urge every department here to participate and to help spread the message about our law enforcement suicide repository. The information that we glean and share could literally save lives. And we can't read too much into very limited data. But I'll just give you one line from the report. Of the 32 reported suicides, only 19% of agencies reported the absence of any warning signs or indications to colleagues or the agency prior to the incident. Let me put that in plain English. Four out of every five actually had given some kind of warning that their coworkers noticed. Think about that. So again, we've got to make it okay to say you're not okay. And I think that's just one more way that we are stronger together. You know, on a personal level, as well as at an agency level, sometimes that might mean lending a sympathetic ear. Sometimes it might mean encouraging your friend and colleague to talk to someone about the stresses of life and the job. Sometimes it might just be saying, “Hey, it's okay to not be okay,” because that could make a difference. It could literally save a life. So that's the thought I wanted to wrap up with here this morning. Law enforcement remains one of the hardest careers out there and ain’t getting any easier. These are, I think we can all agree, tough times in our profession, but I honestly believe that there is no higher calling and no better work.

So thank you for choosing and devoting yourselves to that work. And I want to thank your colleagues for choosing it, too, because there's no question that we are stronger and more effective at protecting the American people together. It's an honor to serve alongside you. Thank you.

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