Director Wray Addresses the International Association of Chiefs of Police
After a big jump in 2020, the number of violent crimes, including murders, remained at an alarmingly high level last year.
Whether it’s gangs terrorizing a community, robbery crews graduating from carjackings to even worse violence, or a neighborhood located along a key drug trafficking route inundated with crime, the specific drivers can be as varied and diverse as the communities we serve.
Another thing we are seeing more and more is repeat or dangerous offenders ending up back on the streets.
For the hardworking men and women of law enforcement, the only thing more frustrating, more maddening than having to arrest violent criminals who should be behind bars, is having to arrest that same person over and over again.
The list of threats the men and women of law enforcement are being called upon to tackle is long, and it’s growing.
When it comes to the FBI, I often find myself saying there’s no shortage of opinions about what we should be doing more of, I have yet to hear a lot of good ideas or responsible ideas of what it is we should be doing less of.
And I know from our regular conversations that a whole lot of you feel the same way.
Another reality is that those of us in the law enforcement community are dealing with all of these threats in an increasingly challenging environment.
I’ve heard from many of you, for some time now, how difficult it has become to recruit and retain new officers—that extraordinary type of person who is willing to put his or her life on the line for a total stranger, every single day, for an entire career.
And then add to that the fact that the brave men and women of law enforcement are being asked to take on these challenges at a time when the job itself is becoming more and more dangerous.
As most of you know, last year, 73 officers were feloniously killed, murdered, while on the job—that’s the highest annual number since 9/11.
For reasons I will never understand, that grim milestone—the record number officers murdered in the line of duty—doesn’t get the attention it deserves, the attention it demands.
And that number doesn’t even count those we lost in accidental deaths, those killed while they were off-duty, or the scores of officers who were injured and whose lives—and whose families’ lives—were forever changed.
At the FBI, we experienced our share of loss last year, too.
Special Agents Laura Schwartzenberger and Dan Alfin were killed while taking on one of the hardest jobs in the FBI, investigating crimes against children. And one of our longtime task force officers, Terre Haute Detective Greg Ferency, was shot and killed in an ambush right outside one of our offices.
Alarmingly, this year’s deaths are nearly keeping pace with last year.
In fact, this past June, more officers were murdered on the job than in any month over the past four years.
And in just the last five days, four more officers were feloniously killed.
Detective Myiesha Breanna Stewart of the Greenville Police Department was shot and killed responding to a 9-1-1 call at a residence.
Then on Thursday, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officer Truong Thai was shot and killed responding to a domestic disturbance call.
And in North Carolina, off-duty Raleigh Police Officer Gabriel Torres was shot and killed along with four others by a juvenile gunman.
The loss of any agent or officer is heartbreaking for the families and the departments and agencies and the communities they serve. Especially troubling is the rise in the number of officers murdered who had no engagement with their assailant before the attack. They were attacked while sitting in their vehicles, or while on patrol, or lured out into the open and killed—eyed for violence because they were law enforcement.
Just this Wednesday, three officers in Connecticut were lured to a scene by a 9-1-1 call, which turned out to be an ambush. Two officers lost their lives and a third was injured in the attack.
These jobs are dangerous enough; wearing a badge shouldn’t make someone a target.
Compounding that, we’re witnessing a broader, troubling trend in this country, and have been for some time, of people upset about any number of issues escalating from angry social media rants to taking steps toward violence.
In law enforcement, we’ve long dealt with critics—including politicians and pundits who second-guess or criticize our work to advance an agenda—that’s certainly not new.
In our profession, we follow the facts wherever they lead, to whomever they lead, no matter who likes it. And, as all of you well know, there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like the way things turn out. It comes with the territory.
What we’ve seen in recent years, across the political spectrum, is that too often people’s standard for judging whether an investigation, the verdict in a high-profile trial, the outcome of a Supreme Court case, or even an election was fair comes down to whether their side won or lost. It’s a phenomenon we’ve been witnessing for some time now on a whole host of issues.
The problem is that, for some, any time they’re disappointed, they’re not just upset, they start attacking the process itself as unfair or illegitimate. And when that talk turns to violence, we’ve really got a problem.
In our country, it doesn’t matter what you’re angry about or who you’re angry with, there’s a right way under our Constitution and our laws to express that sentiments, and violence ain’t it. That’s what the rule of law is all about.
Despite all we’re facing, I remain confident in law enforcement’s ability, our ability, working as a team to rise to the challenge.
We’ve been here before, and we’re built for this in many ways—one team, one fight.
Through the partnerships we’ve forged over the years across agencies and departments, coupled with a steadfast commitment to the mission, we can weather anything.
Just this summer, for instance, working shoulder-to-shoulder with many of you in this room, through our more than 300 FBI violent crime tasks forces, we collectively made nearly 6,000 arrests in just a few months—that’s an average of 50 bad guys taken off the streets every day.
And that’s just from our joint work on FBI task forces.
I know from my travels around the country and my conversations with chiefs and sheriffs just what you’re up against.
And, as you have before, I want you to hear directly from me: The FBI is committed to working alongside you in this fight—we’re here to help.
That means building capacity by focusing our collective resources, jointly identifying and targeting the most dangerous offenders, bringing our unique capabilities and expertise to bear, and engaging with our communities early and often.
On a recent visit to Maine, one of our longtime partners highlighted exactly the type of commitment and partnership that I expect from our offices all across the country. He said to me that in the past five or six years, he’s seen the FBI, in his words, “move from promise to presence.”
He said in the past, our law enforcement partners might get an e-mail from the FBI asking what they need from us and how we can help.
Now, there’s no need for an email because the Bureau is already there. We’re there shoulder-to-shoulder with you, on the scene or in the command post.
He said that even when there isn’t a problem, the FBI is there–stopping by, checking in, and conducting constant pulse checks with our brothers and sisters in law enforcement.
Moving from promise to presence, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
That is precisely the kind of engagement I expect and that we’re constantly striving to improve in all 56 of our FBI field offices.
In today’s environment, it’s also vital that we prioritize taking care of ourselves and watching out for one another—that includes both personal safety and mental health.
Studies have shown that the men and women of law enforcement are at a higher risk for suicide than members of the general public.
The dangers of the job combined with the external challenges of the work we do wears on all of us.
As leaders, we have to set the tone and create a safe environment where it’s okay to admit to not being okay, to making it okay to ask for support. And to taking care of yourself while you’re doing the job.
That’s a message I know we’re all trying to reinforce with our people any chance we get, and one I know you emphasize with your people, as well. Because that has to be part of our culture, too.
And I consider it part of our responsibilities as law enforcement leaders, to normalize the idea that it’s a good thing to ask for–and get–help when something traumatic happens or when the demands of the job are just wearing on you.
In addition to the focus on the people we do the work with, keeping the people we do the work for front of mind keeps us all focused on what matters most.
To take just one example, Operation Cross Country in just two weeks this August, through joint efforts of state, local, and federal agencies, with many folks in this room, we located more than 200 victims of human trafficking, many of them young kids.
Since 2008, the Bureau has been proud to work with you to get thousands of victims to safety and put scores of human traffickers and child predators behind bars.
Helping victims–especially kids–escape the cycle of abuse, offering them a lifeline, a way out. That is a reward in and of itself.
Another example that often comes to mind is a call one of our offices received after a sweep involving dozens of arrests targeting the scourge of drugs and gang violence in a local community in northern Ohio. The operation was the result of a four-year investigation conducted jointly by a dozen state, local, and federal agencies.
After the takedown, a mom called our local office at the urging of her 6-year-old daughter. That mom was calling because her little girl wanted her to say thank you. For months, that little girl had been too afraid to sleep in her own bed. Her neighborhood was so plagued by gunshots and violence every night, that she would only sleep under the bed.
But this little girl wanted her mom to let us know that after that takedown, she once again felt safe enough to go to sleep in her own bed.
That six-year-old’s renewed sense of safety?
That’s what makes law enforcement more than just a job.
The critical importance of the mission—protecting the American people—that’s what calls us all to this work.
So as I wrap up here this morning, and as we get ready for a very full few days ahead of us, I want to say thank you.
Thank you for all your hard work, for your dedication, and for stepping up to the challenge, time and again.
Thank you for being that special kind of person who gets up every morning and goes to work building, inspiring, and leading the next generation of leaders in law enforcement.
I’m grateful for your partnership, your friendship, and your perseverance, and very much looking forward to continuing this conversation.