Home News Speeches Shifting Priorities, Renewed Commitments
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  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • October 15, 2007

Good morning. It’s great to be back in New Orleans. I want to thank the members of the IACP for hosting this conference, and, in particular, I want to thank Chief Joe Carter for his service as president this past year.

This morning, I want to spend a few moments talking about terrorism, but I also want to focus on violent crime, because the context in which we are operating has changed. We are realizing that national security is as much about reducing the number of homicides on our streets as it is about reducing the threat of terrorism.

Today, in pockets around the country, we are seeing the first steady increase in street-level crime since 1993. As a result, we must view criminal threats differently than we did in the immediate aftermath of September 11.

Time has passed, and, through our collective efforts, we have so far succeeded in preventing another terrorist attack here at home. But in the public eye, the pendulum has shifted, from the potential of terrorism to the reality of guns and gang activity. Consequently, terrorism cannot always be on the front burner for many of you, and that is understandable.

Yet time has not diminished the threats we face, nor should it lull us into a false sense of security. Al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan and North Africa, with new leaders, new recruits, and new plans for destruction. Unknown extremists from visa-waiver countries may cross our borders with great ease and little notice. And homegrown terrorists with no connection to al Qaeda will continue to plan attacks the world over.

For these reasons, terrorism will remain our top priority in the FBI. But it is by no means our only priority. We recognize that we need your eyes and ears to prevent terrorist attacks, and we can provide help on the criminal side.

I know that our reallocation of resources has impacted your work. Some of you may have less daily contact with FBI agents on drug cases, bank robberies, and smaller white collar criminal cases. You may have asked of us at one time or another, “Where are you?”

Let me assure you: We are with you. Our emphasis has changed, but we still understand the impact of violent crime. However, with limited resources, we must focus on those areas where we bring something unique to the table.

Since 2001, our gang cases have doubled. And we have stood up Safe Streets Task Forces in more mid-size cities—those most affected by the increase in violent crime and gang activity.

In recent years, I have talked a great deal about the importance of partnerships. Today is no exception. Yet the word “partnership” implies that we have simply combined our resources and our expertise. The end result is far greater than that.

Take gang violence, for example. When you face a rash of homicides or armed robberies, you must act quickly. You may not be able to devote the time or the resources to initiate a long-term investigation to disrupt that gang. But we can.

Our joint efforts provide a balance between an immediate response and a long-term solution. Together, we can cut off the criminals from the street level up. And we can use intelligence, undercover work, and surveillance techniques to dismantle the group from the top down.

While we do not work as many drug cases as we once did, we are well aware of the connection between drugs and gangs. And although gangs are highly competitive, they are willing to work together when there is money to be made.

In Memphis, members of the Almighty Latin Kings, the Gangster Disciples, and the Vice Lords joined forces with local drug traffickers. The Latin Kings moved down from Chicago, opened a tire shop as a front, and distributed drugs to neighborhood street gangs like the Castelo Crew.

Together, the Memphis Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force dismantled this drug ring. To date, they have arrested more than 40 individuals and seized $1.5 million in cash, more than 3,500 pounds of marijuana, and 26 kilos of cocaine.

These criminals target new communities and new victims every day. If we are to be successful, we must present a united front. And when the lines between criminals and their activities begin to blur, we must be ready to respond, together.

In Aurora, Illinois, a five-year investigation of the Latin Kings led to the convictions of 58 gang members on drug-related charges—a strong result in and of itself.

However, during the investigation, witnesses testified to other crimes, including many unsolved murders dating back to the 1980s. The FBI and the Aurora Police Department formed a Cold Case Homicide Initiative.

In June, they arrested 31 members of the Latin Kings on 179 counts of first degree murder in 22 separate cases. The murder rate has dropped from a peak of 28 in 2002, when the investigation began, to just four in 2006.

Although our primary focus is on long-term takedowns, we stand ready to serve in times of crisis, whether it be a child abduction or a rash of violent crimes.

When three teenagers were executed in cold blood on a Newark basketball court, we reached out to help. Together with the United States Marshals, our state and local partners in New Jersey and Virginia, and the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, we developed source information that led to the swift arrest of one of the suspects in the Washington, D.C., area.

Here in New Orleans, the murder rate jumped 182 percent in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Last February, FBI agents began working with Chief Warren Riley and the New Orleans Police Department, targeting the most dangerous criminals for federal prosecution.

Agents have assisted the Homicide Unit in nearly every murder investigation since then, processing evidence, working crime scenes, and locating witnesses across the country. The homicide clearance rate has more than doubled, in part due to our collaboration.

We are also working with the New Orleans Police Department to encourage residents to contact law enforcement with violent crime information. When this community outreach program started, we received roughly one tip every two weeks. Today, we receive six to eight tips every day.

I want to turn to organized crime for a moment. Public perception of organized crime may be largely based on “The Sopranos,” but the reality is far different. While La Cosa Nostra still poses a threat, criminals from Asia, Armenia, Albania, and Russia have become major players here at home.

These groups run drugs, launder money, and threaten witnesses. But, like other multinational corporations, they are diversifying, from human trafficking to health care fraud.

In Glendale, California, Armenian organized crime has established a presence. The unsolved murder rate is high; incidents of fraud, bribery, and witness intimidation run rampant. Many residents are scared silent, and our state and local counterparts are not adequately staffed to address the problem.

We are working with Los Angeles and Glendale police and sheriffs’ deputies on the Armenian Organized Crime Task Force. Together, we are fighting street-level crime, while at the same time collecting the intelligence necessary to dismantle entire organizations. We have similar task forces in New York, Chicago, Denver, and Detroit.

But our work is not limited to the United States. Cell phones, cyber space, and jet travel have blurred borders and boundaries. We must cut crime off at the source, before it arrives on our shores. This, by definition, requires a global presence.

Our Legal Attachés are working with their international partners in Armenia to identify individuals traveling to and from the United States. They are sharing this information with the Glendale task force, amongst others.

In addition, FBI agents are embedded with police departments in Italy and Hungary. Together, they are tracking fugitives and investigating criminal syndicates—identifying key players, who they are talking to, and what they are planning. This cooperation is key to our violent crime investigations.

One case illustrates the point. In September 2005, a Glendale resident named Artur Khanzadyan killed his girlfriend and left her body in the trunk of his car. By the time police discovered the body, he had already fled to Armenia. Our Legal Attaché in Tbilisi notified the Armenian authorities, who then arrested him.

The Armenian courts refused to compel his return to the United States, but the Armenian Prosecutor General charged him with murder. Through our Legal Attaché, the Glendale Police Department provided their files to the Armenian authorities. Two detectives from Glendale testified at the trial. In August 2006, Khanzadyan was convicted and sent to a long term in prison. Without our close cooperation, this man would have walked.

These are not isolated examples. They represent the work we are doing together across the country and around the world every day. But we know we must do more—more task forces, both domestic and international; more joint investigations, both domestic and international; and better technology.

Those of us who count ourselves old enough to earn the designation “baby boomer”—and I am one of them—remember the rise in violent crime during the 1970s and ‘80s. There was no quick fix then, and there is no quick fix now. Today, we face the added threat of terrorism and the increased strain on our resources and our personnel.

I have testified before Congress my firm conviction that you in this room represent the first line of defense against crime and terrorism. And the country needs to provide the resources you need, particularly for those of you serving on federal, state, and local task forces.

We all face financial shortfalls and limited resources. Criminals and terrorists will not change professions, and technology will not turn back.

Being here in New Orleans brings two things to mind: good food and great music. Walk down any street in the French Quarter, and you will find fantastic Creole fare and some of the best jazz in the world. Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Kermit Ruffins—all earned their stripes here in the Crescent City.

Any jazz musician will tell you that the whole of the music is greater than that played by any one instrument. In any piece, at any given time, one instrument may take the lead, but not for long.

The same is true for all of us. The whole of what we are doing together far surpasses what each of us brings to the table. At any given time, one of us may take the lead, and one of us may be the backbone of the investigation, but we are in it together. Like the best jazz, our best work is collaborative.

In recent years, our responsibilities have grown greater, and the consequences more grave. We have been asked repeatedly to do more with less, and we have all done just that. We must continue to do more. Criminal and terrorist threats demand it, and the American people deserve it.

Thank you for what you do day in and day out. Thank you for what you do to protect the American people, and to keep our streets safe. Thank you, and God bless.

Recent Speeches
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A Different Way to Be James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Special Agent Memorial Service, FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Privacy, Public Safety, and Security: How We Can Confront the Cyber Threat James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Conference on Cyber Engagement, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Expectations of Privacy: Balancing Liberty, Security, and Public Safety James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Center for the Study of American Democracy Biennial Conference, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH
The Darkest Night Brings the Brightest Stars: Lights of Love, Joy, Hope, a James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Commemoration of the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
Standing Together Against Terrorism and Fear: Tossed by the Waves but Neve James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, NYPD SHIELD, New York, NY
Confronting the Cyber Threat James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sixth Annual Financial Crimes and Cyber Security Symposium, Federal Reserve Bank, New York, NY
Keeping Our Communities Safe Through Shared Perspectives, Information, and James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, Chicago, IL
Law Enforcement and the Communities We Serve: Bending the Lines Toward Saf James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, University of Chicago Law School, Chicago, IL
Strength and Honor: The Legacy of Those Left Behind James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Concerns of Police Survivors Police Week Luncheon, Alexandria, VA