Home News Speeches The Concept of Connection
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  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Police Athletic League of New York
  • New York City, New York
  • October 19, 2012

Remarks prepared for delivery

Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here.

This is my first meeting with the members and supporters of the Police Athletic League. I will tell you that when the legendary Robert Morgenthau extends an invitation to meet with an organization he has nurtured over the years, one can hardly refuse—particularly not with his powers of persuasion and his prosecutorial record.

More than 400 years ago, English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Much like everything else these days, this poem has made its way online, to a poetry forum. One reader’s opinion made an impression. He wrote: “I am trying to be an island. But my life keeps connecting me to the mainland.”

There are days—for all of us—when the idea of being an island sounds good. Even the idea of being somewhere on an island sounds good. Yet our lives do indeed keep connecting us to the mainland. And as mobile devices become more pervasive, the connection becomes harder to break. Between YouTube and Twitter, texting and blogging, smart phones and crowd-sourcing, it has become nearly impossible to be an island unto oneself. 

One could argue that such connectivity is more of a benefit than a detriment. In Africa, for example, millions may lack running water and electricity—but they have Wi-Fi, and they are sharing information about the spread of disease and the need for medicine in remote locales. 

Today I want to focus on the concept of connection for those of us in the FBI…connections among our law enforcement and intelligence partners…connections between the FBI and the citizens we serve. For these are the ties that bind us, in the best sense.

The Police Athletic League came into being in 1914 with the creation of playgrounds for children who lived in the tenements. As the New York Times stated, “Children must play, and children, if they live in the cities, must play in the streets.” The primary goal was to create a safe place to play within the city. The secondary goal was to create a connection between police officers and children. The program was a success from its earliest days—a model for law enforcement across the country.

Much has changed in New York City since 1914. Indeed, the world itself has changed in the past 11 years. But one thing has not changed, and that is the need for strong and lasting connections between law enforcement and the citizens we serve.

Those of us in law enforcement—whether it be the FBI or the New York Police Department—face an evolving threat landscape.

Terrorists with global reach—and global ambitions—seek to strike us at home and abroad, as we saw just this week with the attempted attack on the Federal Reserve here in New York and the recent attack on our Ambassador in Libya.

Spies seek our state secrets—and our trade secrets—for military and competitive advantage. Hackers lurk on our networks, stealing information for sale to the highest bidder.

At the same time, we face a wide range of criminal threats, from high-stakes financial fraud and public corruption to transnational criminal syndicates, migrating gangs, and child predators.

These threats are pervasive, and they will continue to grow. And so we, too, must continue to evolve and to build our capabilities and our connections.

In the decade since the attacks of September 11th, the FBI has enhanced its intelligence capabilities. We have updated the technology we use to collect, analyze, and share intelligence, both within the Bureau and with our law enforcement partners, including our long-time counterparts in the New York Police Department.

We are making connections between cases and individuals, between emerging trends and key players, and between seemingly disparate pieces of intelligence. And we are working in new ways with new partners—and old friends, including Ray Kelly—to prevent crime and terrorism. We are investigating cases side-by-side—more efficiently and more effectively than ever before.

Yet even strong intelligence, state-of-the-art technology, and global collaboration are not enough. We must build on our connections with those we serve—community and business leaders, educators and everyday citizens alike. 

The FBI has always understood the need for the trust and the support of the American people. To that end, we have always understood the need for community outreach. Too often, we run up against walls between law enforcement and the communities we serve—walls based on myth and misperception of the work we do. We know that the best way to tear down these walls is brick by brick, and person by person.

One such example is the FBI’s Citizens Academy. In each of our 56 field offices, community, business, and religious leaders come to the FBI to meet with agents, intelligence analysts, and outreach specialists, one night a week, for roughly 10 weeks. They get a first-hand look at the inner workings of the Bureau, from our investigative priorities to criminal trends and evidence collection—even firearms training and use of force policies.

More than 16,000 individuals have graduated from an FBI Citizens Academy…creating a network of ambassadors that helps citizens to better understand how we in the FBI can help…a network that helps us to better understand the diverse needs of those we serve. Likewise, the New York Police Department has its own Citizens Academy—to help the residents of New York better understand the work they are doing.

We are reaching out to ethnic and minority communities across the country. And we routinely meet with leaders in academia and in the private sector to share information about threats we all face, from hate crimes to lone offenders to cyber security. 

Our community partnerships are so important that each year, we select one individual or organization from each field office to receive the Community Leadership Award. This year, from the New York Field Office, we will honor Mohammad Razvi, founder of the Council of Peoples Organization, based in Brooklyn. Mr. Razvi emigrated from Pakistan with his family when he was 6 years old.

Mr. Razvi assists immigrant families with their transition to life in New York. He advocates for the rights of marginalized communities. He opens doors between Muslim groups and other religious organizations. And he creates connections between government agencies and the communities he serves.

Mr. Razvi is a graduate of both the FBI and the NYPD Citizens Academies. And he is a member of the FBI New York Office Community Engagement Council. He is affectionately known as the “Heart of Coney Island Avenue,” and with good reason.

These are the kinds of connections we need to keep our communities safe and strong. 

We do understand the reluctance of some communities to sit at the table with us. They may come from countries where national police forces and security services engender fear and mistrust. They may have been disenfranchised or overlooked. But it is in these communities that we must redouble our efforts.

The New York Police Department was the frontrunner in community policing—particularly in the 1980s, when Mr. Morgenthau was the Manhattan District Attorney—and they continue that leadership today. The concept of the officer on the beat as a crime fighter, a problem solver, and even a neighborhood ombudsman was the right idea for the right time, and it worked.

We in the FBI understand the importance of community policing, and the need to reach out to our youngest constituents. As part of our Adopt-a-School and Junior Special Agents programs, agents and community outreach specialists mentor young children. Through our Safe Online Surfing program, we are teaching children and educators about cyber safety, and the dangers posed by child predators. And our Child ID app for smart phones enables parents to store photos and vital statistics about their children—information that is readily accessible in the event of an emergency.

We in the FBI constantly strive for new ways to help you—but you help us, every day. By taking part in our outreach programs, you help us build strong partnerships. Your tips help us find missing children. And your cooperation helps us to capture fugitives featured on electronic billboards across the country—including the one in Times Square.

Each of these connections plays a part in our collective security. We in the Bureau understand that our ability to protect the American people depends in large part on the public’s trust in the FBI. That trust is not static. We must work hard to earn it with every investigation, and every interaction, in every community.

Let me turn for a moment to the importance of the rule of law.

Earlier this morning, I had the opportunity to speak at the annual meeting of the American College of Trial Lawyers, just two blocks down the street. I focused on the importance of the rule of law, because it provides the bedrock of our legal foundation, just as it provides the bedrock for public trust in law enforcement. Indeed, the rule of law is the way we in the FBI are most connected to the American people, in principle and in practice.

The FBI has always adapted to meet new threats. And we must continue to evolve to prevent terrorist and criminal attacks, because terrorists and criminals certainly will evolve themselves. But our values can never change.

Every FBI employee takes an oath promising to uphold the rule of law and the United States Constitution. For us, these are not mere words. They set the expectations for our behavior…the standard for the work we do.

In my remarks to new agents upon their graduation from the FBI Academy, I try to impress upon each one the importance of the rule of law. I tell them it is not enough to catch the criminal. We must do so while upholding his civil rights. It is not enough to stop the terrorist. We must do so while maintaining civil liberties. It is not enough to prevent foreign countries from stealing our secrets. We must do so while upholding the rule of law.

It is not a question of conflict; it is a question of balance. The rule of law, civil liberties, and civil rights—these are not our burdens. They are what make all of us safer and stronger.

In the summer of 1948, E.B. White penned what has been called a love letter to the city of New York. In his book, Here is New York, he speaks of a city that is both changeless and ever changing.  

“It is a miracle,” he wrote, “that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible. …Long ago the city should have experienced an insoluble traffic snarl at some impossible bottleneck. …It should have been wiped out by a plague…overwhelmed by the sea that licks at it from every side. …It should have been touched in the head by the August heat and gone off its rocker.”

And yet, he concluded, “The city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin—the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty, and unparalleled.” 

One of the reasons New York works is because of organizations such as the Police Athletic League. For nearly 100 years, the league has drawn city dwellers together in a common cause, and that is to nurture and protect our young children. On an island with millions of strangers—from all walks of life—the league has made countless connections between children and police officers, between private industry and everyday citizens, and among communities with different backgrounds and beliefs. The league’s long-standing efforts certainly are part of what White termed the “supplementary vitamin” that sustains the city.

It is indeed true that no man is an island, not even here in New York. We are all connected by common bonds. And we in the FBI are proud to stand with the Police Athletic League—and, by extension, the New York Police Department—in the understanding that only by moving forward as one community will we make lasting progress.

It has been my honor to be here today.  Thank you, and God bless.

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