FBI Director Christopher Wray met in recent weeks with representatives of the nation’s leading sheriff’s organizations to reaffirm the FBI’s commitment to strong partnerships and to discuss the myriad challenges facing law enforcement agencies.
“We’re working right beside you, at really combat tempo, to lend as much support as we can,” Wray said.
Wray delivered remarks at annual conferences of the Major County Sheriffs of America and the non-profit National Sheriffs’ Association in Washington, D.C. Together, the organizations represent thousands of law enforcement professionals nationwide whose jurisdictions cover more than 130 million citizens.
Wray addressed the winter conference of Major County Sheriffs of America on January 31. The professional organization represents approximately 110 of the largest elected sheriff’s offices in counties or parishes with populations of 500,000. Then this week, on February 8, he spoke at the National Sheriffs’ Association’s conference.
Topics included crime and national security challenges like violent crimes, gangs, drugs, border crime, terrorism, and violent extremism. During each meeting, Director Wray expressed concern about the continuing increase in murder rates, the release of repeat or dangerous offenders from prison, and the rise in radicalized juveniles inspired by violent radical ideologies and extremist groups.
And discussion of the brutal beating death of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers, captured on video, was top of mind for leaders at both conferences. “What happened was tragic and inexcusable,” Director Wray said. “I was appalled by the video and deeply troubled by what I saw.” The video, he insisted, is not reflective of the men and women in law enforcement “who go about their job in the right way.”
Director Wray also detailed how transnational gangs are fueling violent crime across the country by finding ways to move their people, drugs, guns, and money into local communities. Even the success of authorities in El Salvador—where they have arrested nearly 60,000 gang members since last March—has forced more violent criminals to flee to the U.S. to avoid the crackdown.
“These are complex international problems that require us to put our heads, our tools, and our efforts together,” the Director said.
That depth of collaboration underscores the importance of established partnerships and like those of the organizations. Throughout his remarks, Director Wray cited several examples of successful teamwork:
- Thanks largely to more than 300 violent crime task forces nationwide, the FBI and its partners arrested over 20,000 violent criminals and child predators from October 2021 to September 2022.Some 370 gangs and violent criminal enterprises were completely dismantled, with their leaders arrested and their assets seized. The criminal capabilities of another 3,500 organizations were also impeded.
- At the southwest border, the FBI and its partners made more than 560 arrests and disrupted dozens of gangs and transnational criminal organizations in 2022.
- In one case involving extremist radicalization, the FBI arrested a 14-year-old—obsessed with the Columbine shooters, ISIS, and neo-Nazis and who expressed a desire to kill as many people as possible—from carrying out his violent plans. The prevention took place thanks to support and proactive input from local law enforcement partners, a mental health provider, and other professionals. It’s part of a new “behavior-focused approach that brings in non-traditional partners like hospitals and social services to get teenagers off the path to violence,” the Director said.
- More than two-thirds of all law enforcement agencies are now sharing detailed crime data via NIBRS, the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System. Among other things, NIBRS can help determine which gangs operate in an area of responsibility and if a certain demographic of children is being targeted by online predators. “Armed with data, the FBI has a much better idea of where our resources are needed the most,” the Director said, stressing the need for greater participation.
Director Wray received praise for his collaborative approach and for meeting with sheriffs during his visits to FBI field offices. One sheriff thanked Director Wray for the phone calls he makes whenever a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty.
“When I make those calls—we lost two agents and a task force officer in 2021—I know what it’s like to be on the other side and to talk the family the next day,” Director Wray said. “We lost Dan [Alfin] and Laura [Schwartzenberger], and I’ll never forget the sea of law enforcement leaders and personnel at [their memorial services] at Dolphins’ stadium in Miami. In an otherwise miserable moment, it gave me some hope.”