Major Executive Speeches

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Photograph of Robert S. Mueller, III

Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau of Investigation

International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference
Denver, Colorado

October 5, 2009

Good morning. As always, it is good to be here.

I have been coming to the IACP since 2001. Year after year, I look out at all of you, and I ask myself the same question. Could I handle the challenges you face, day after day? Could I do the jobs you do with the same success? And the answer is no, for one simple reason: I could never bring myself to wear anything but a white shirt.

Your former president, Ron Ruecker, is now serving as our Director of Law Enforcement, and he is doing a great job. Several weeks ago, I asked Ron if he knew any good jokes to warm up the crowd. He suggested self-deprecating humor. And I said, “Sounds great. What are my weak points?” And Ron said, “Well, sir, you’re only speaking for 15 minutes…so let’s just hit the highlights.” I am sure that Ron will enjoy his new post in Yemen.

I want to take a moment to congratulate Gil Kerlikowske, the new drug czar for the Obama administration. Gil may find that working in Washington makes the time he “tasered” himself seem like a day at the beach. He will be a great success, and we do wish him well.

This morning, I would like to start with a brief counterterrorism update. I want to talk about our collective efforts to fight violent crime, and the partnerships—and indeed, the friendships—we have built in recent years. Finally, I’d like to touch on where we need to be down the road.

First, counterterrorism. As illustrated by the recent arrests in New York and here in Denver, we still face significant threats to our safety from terrorists.

Our primary threat continues to come from the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. But we are seeing persistent activity elsewhere, from Algeria to Somalia to Yemen. We are increasingly concerned with pockets of people around the world that identify with al Qaeda and its ideology, including those who may be living here in the United States.

At the same time, we are also concerned with domestic terrorism, and, in particular, lone offenders. Though it happened nearly 15 years ago, we cannot forget those lives lost in the Oklahoma City bombing. And in a span of just 11 days in May and June of this year, we saw the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, the attack on individuals at a U.S. military recruiting office in Little Rock, and the shooting of a police officer at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

We are working to identify and stop those who would move beyond hateful rhetoric to acts of violence, but it is a difficult task. How do we find a lone individual who would one day open fire in a church or a community center? How do we stop those who would orchestrate another Oklahoma City bombing? We must do everything we can to prevent any such attack.

It is for this reason that our continued collaboration is so important. Regardless of the threat, whether criminal or terrorist, we face the same challenges you do. We need to know where any given threat is moving, and we need to get there first.

To be effective, we must deliberately collect intelligence to fill the gaps between our cases, and the gaps in our knowledge base. That intelligence will differ from city to city, and state to state, just as criminal and terrorist threats differ.

We understand that terrorism cannot always be your highest priority. Most often, it is violent crime. But we must find a way to make the most of our shared resources to fight both crime and terrorism.

I want to turn for a moment to violent crime.

The recent Uniform Crime Report indicates that violent crime is down. The credit for that most deservedly goes to you and your officers. But numbers do not always reveal nuances, and they may not reflect what is happening in some of our communities and on our streets.

We have seen increases in violent crime in pockets across the country. Even in those cities that have seen a drop in violent crime, there is little cause to celebrate. Your departments are short-staffed and under-funded. Your officers are under assault, every day, by gangs and drug trafficking organizations using more lethal weapons.

And a decrease in the homicide rate may not reflect a decrease in the level of violence. Gang-related shootings are on the rise in a number of cities. But thankfully, with improved emergency room and shock trauma capabilities, more victims are surviving.

Apart from the numbers, we must also consider the impact of criminals who may soon be released from prison. These individuals will have few job prospects, and few skills other than those picked up in prison. They will have limited capabilities, and little incentive to avoid trouble once they return home. These diverse elements conspire to make our jobs more difficult and dangerous with each passing day.

Indeed, we have witnessed an increase in line of duty deaths in recent months, from assaults on officers to car accidents. We all hope that this does not reflect a new trend.

There are few things in law enforcement as traumatic as when we lose one of our own. It can bring your department and even your community to a standstill. With each loss, we are reminded of the courage it takes to patrol the streets each day…and the courage it takes to be the loved ones who wait at home each night.

At a National Academy graduation in 2002, Tom Smith, an officer from the NYPD, told a story about the true meaning of heroism. He said that one day, his father, who was also a New York City police officer, was walking the beat, when he saw a fellow officer under attack. Tom’s father intervened, shots were fired, and, in the end, he had to kill the attacker. He had saved a fellow officer’s life. Naturally, everyone called him a hero.

But Tom’s father told his son that the real hero was his wife, Tom’s mother. She was the one who sat with him when he could not sleep in the months after the attack. She was the one who kept the family on course. She was the one who deserved the recognition. Every officer and agent feels the same.

Today, we understand that we must work together not only to keep our communities safe. We must work together to keep each other safe. You and your officers are on the front lines, every day, and we want you to know that we will support you in any way we can.

I want to talk about the state of our relationships for a moment.

I came to this position having worked with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., as a homicide prosecutor. Working closely with my state and local counterparts, I became familiar with some of the more cynical views of the Bureau.

An old joke reflects that view. A joint task force of federal, state, and local officers raids a house with their respective police dogs. The state and local dog sniffs out the suspects on the run. The DEA dog discovers a suitcase full of cocaine. The ATF dog uncovers a buried cache of AK-47s. Finally, the FBI agents release their dog, who pulls out a microphone and holds a press conference.

My hope is that we have made some strides in dispelling this image over the years. It is essential that we continue to work together to combat crime and terrorism on all fronts. At the end of the day, the question of who takes credit for any success must be incidental.

Turning to gang violence, this is one area where our joint efforts have the greatest impact.

Five years ago, 45 percent of you said that gangs were active in your communities. Today, that number has increased to 58 percent. The estimated number of gang members across the country is roughly one million—200,000 than just five years ago.

By some estimates, these one million individuals account for upwards of 80 percent of the crime in some areas. And we are not simply talking about drive-by shootings, but drug and weapons trafficking, armed robbery, auto theft, and home invasions. Often, this activity is orchestrated by the more than 140,000 gang members currently incarcerated.

How can we best attack these gangs? We must continue to work with you—and with our partners in ATF and DEA—to end immediate surges in gang violence. But we must also continue to work human source and surveillance angles to develop intelligence. Our aim is to weaken the structure of any given gang so that the center can no longer hold.

In Los Angeles County, law enforcement officers have conducted multiple gang takedowns in the past several months, with great results. One investigation targeted the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang—a gang that has waged a campaign against the Hawaiian Gardens neighborhood and against law enforcement as a whole. This investigation included the nation’s largest gang sweep ever, with more than 1,400 officers from more than 40 different agencies. More than 200 defendants have been indicted, with more than 130 already in custody. No one department or agency could have had this kind of impact. It took a team.

That same kind of collaboration led to an arrest in a 21-year-old cold case in Milwaukee. From 1986 through 2007, nine women were murdered under similar circumstances, all linked by an unknown DNA profile. The Milwaukee Police Department had several potential suspects, but few solid leads.

When Lieutenant Keith Balash in Milwaukee reached out for assistance, FBI analysts began to break the case down. They looked for similar cases across the country. They searched NCIC for individuals and cars queried during the dates, times, and places surrounding each murder. From this, they combed through roughly 2,000 records, identifying nine potential suspects. One name popped up in several cases—a known offender named Walter Ellis.

In short, through the combined efforts of the Milwaukee Police Department, the Wisconsin Regional Crime Lab, and the Bureau, among many others, disparate information became knowledge…knowledge that led to a search warrant, a DNA match, and, ultimately, to Ellis’ arrest.

I want to turn to fusion centers for a moment. As Secretary Napolitano said a few moments ago, state and local fusion centers are becoming focal points for intelligence sharing. And they are becoming more important to our collective security, because you and your departments are often the first to confront emerging threats and trends.

While we do not ordinarily take the lead in these fusion centers, we strive to be an active partner when and where we can. There are more than 70 fusion centers across the country, each with their own mission. They set their own priorities and their own agendas, depending on the communities they serve and the threats they face. So our level of participation must be tailored to each center, to some degree, given our priorities and our resources. We are working to create a more standard approach to the way our field offices interact with your fusion centers. And we are trying to provide clear guidance on what we can bring to the table.

In recent years, we have built a firm foundation of friendship. At the same time, we must continue to move forward. With a new administration, and good friends in Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, it is my hope that we will see additional resources directed toward criminal programs. We all need more personnel and more money, but the reality is that we must continue to do more with less.

The best way to make the most of limited resources is by integrating intelligence into all that we do, and by turning that intelligence into knowledge we can act upon, together.

In the Bureau, the evolution of our intelligence program has been one of both mindset and skillset. In other words, we have changed the way we think about intelligence, and the way we use that intelligence.

But intelligence does not depend only on cutting-edge technology or sophisticated surveillance. Our collective knowledge comes from working shoulder to shoulder…from picking up the phone to offer assistance on a case…and perhaps most importantly, from sharing a beer or a glass of wine after work.

A few years ago, some of you may have believed you were responsible for what happened in your own backyard, and we in the Bureau were responsible for what happened in ours. And rarely did the two intersect.

Today, beat cops work closely with special agents. Analysts share intelligence up and down the line. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are breaking down the walls that have long divided us. And we are all reaching out to the citizens we serve. We understand that we share one backyard. We are part of one team, with one mission.

Many of you are familiar with the FBI’s National Academy, where officers meet to share best practices with colleagues from across the country and around the world. I am certain that more than a few of you have Yellow Bricks sitting on your desks or bookcases.

In 2006, we invited Roberto Velasco Bravo, head of the organized crime division for the Mexican Federal Police, to be part of the 226th Session of the National Academy. Roberto was the life of the party, by all accounts. He went to every class, every meeting, and every social event. He made an effort to meet every officer in the session, and everyone at the Academy.

One of his colleagues asked Roberto how he maintained such a zest for life, and zeal for his job. He replied that in Mexico, good cops often die young, so it was important to seize the day, every day.

In May of last year, Roberto was killed at his home, in front of his family, by members of a drug cartel. His untimely death reminds us that while we are making progress, there remains much work to be done. It reminds us that great harm can befall not only our communities and our citizens, but our officers and agents as well.

More importantly, Roberto’s life reminds us what our mission is and must be in the years to come. His example reminds us to seize the day, every day, to make our communities stronger and more secure. To build on our solid friendship. And to shut down those who seek to do us harm. Standing together, we are up to the challenge.

I want to thank you for having me here this morning. As always, it has been my privilege. Thank you and God bless.

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