FLEOA BIENNIAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, National President (Nate) Catura, for the kind introduction. I also want to extend my gratitude to Executive Vice President (Larry) Cosme and the rest of the FLEOA National Board for the invitation to join you today at your Biennial National Conference. As always – I am glad to be in a room with fellow federal law enforcement officers.
Yesterday, I was honored to be in New York City on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, to honor the lives and memories of the nearly 3,000 men and women who perished on that tragic day, including of course so many of our nation’s brave first responders. As a sworn law enforcement officer, I am humbled, and will always be, by our law enforcement and public safety heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice that day. And for many in the law enforcement community, these heroes are the reason they wear the uniform.
Thank you, all, for your service in enforcing the law and safeguarding our nation. FLEOA members – more than 26,000 strong, and almost a quarter of whom are DHS professionals – are among a unique group of individuals who have heeded a higher call of service to our country. The work of FLEOA members in 65 different federal agencies is critical to our national security.
Back in May, I had the opportunity to meet with your leadership in my first month as Acting Secretary. I was then, and am now, appreciative of FLEOA’s willingness to work with us in addressing the challenges we face. In a busy summer for our Department, FLEOA has reliably supported our initiatives and fiercely pushed back against the false narratives that demoralize our Department’s law enforcement professionals.
FLEOA has also offered recommendations to complement our mission in law enforcement. In part, this led to the Department reinstituting a law enforcement counselor to the Secretary’s office last year, of which I’ve been a direct beneficiary. Scott Erickson, my counselor, was a police officer for 19 years in San Jose, California before stepping into this role. He also was the founder of a national pro-law enforcement non-profit organization designed to promote dialogue and mutual understanding between police and the communities they serve and to also counter the anti-police narrative that has prevailed recently in this country. Scott has been a valued source for me on all things law enforcement.
In addition, per FLEOA’s recommendation, we are working with our Office of Public Engagement’s Office of State and Local Law Enforcement to reestablish frequent law enforcement roundtables to open the channels of communication between federal, state, and local law enforcement. Your continued collaboration is appreciated by me and the rest of the Department.
In the time I have with you this afternoon, I want to provide you with my take on three key challenges faced by our Department and its federal law enforcement professionals: the ongoing border security and humanitarian crisis at the Southwest Border; the scourge of opioids ravaging American communities; and the increasing threat from domestic terrorism and targeted violence.
But before I do – I want to take a moment to address something of fundamental importance to the men and women of law enforcement. And that is the irresponsible, unfair, and often malicious accusations made against our nation’s police officers and agents.
Despite being on the frontlines of protecting our nation every day, our federal, state, and local law enforcement does not always get the credit, or respect, that it has earned. FLEOA members and the broader law enforcement community are all too often subject to scrutiny, or even vilification, for simply doing their job. And we have seen the unfortunate and dangerous consequences of this rhetoric.
There have been four targeted attacks against ICE since July 2019 – including, most recently, a targeted shooting through the window of an ICE office in San Antonio. This violent assault has clarified a stark and undeniable reality: our ICE law enforcement partners, and others across the law enforcement community, are coming under increased and ever more violent assaults.
And as we have seen, this unfairly critical narrative of law enforcement has the potential to lead to targeted violence against our men and women in uniform. Take the attacks against police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge as an example. While the Department will always uphold the treasured American right to peacefully protest, violence will never be tolerated. These attacks are not just an outrage to law enforcement professionals, but an affront to the very rule of law itself.
Dialogue and mutual understanding are essential for positive
police-community relations. As Acting Secretary, I am taking every available opportunity – in interviews, meetings, and congressional testimony – to promote this dialogue and defend our law enforcement officers from this false and damaging narrative. DHS will always stand with you and offer you our full support. An attack on one of us is an attack on ALL of us.
We need to have each other’s backs, because the continued work of our nation’s law enforcement is critical. We have many shared challenges affecting our national security and public safety.
I’d like to address some of those challenges now.
First, I want to provide an update on the ongoing border security and humanitarian crisis we are facing at our Southwest Border. From day one on the job, I have made it a Department priority to aggressively confront this crisis – which, unfortunately, was months before most of Congress even acknowledged it as one.
In the first ten months of this fiscal year, we have seen an unprecedented flow of migrants, primarily from Central America, arriving at our Southwest Border—peaking at a May high of 144,000 aliens apprehended or encountered by CBP, the highest monthly total in 13 years.
Fortunately, we have made significant and encouraging progress since then, observing another 22 percent decline in enforcement actions from July to August. August’s total apprehension numbers of around 64,000 represent a 56 percent decline since May’s peak. However, the numbers are still beyond crisis levels.
To date this fiscal year, CBP has apprehended or encountered over 810,000 aliens through the end of August. Obviously, managing this tremendous flow of migrants has placed a significant strain on the already limited resources of our Department’s Components and our federal law enforcement partners. We have had to ask a tremendous amount of our federal law enforcement, and they have stepped up to meet the need.
In addition to working hard at the border, our law enforcement officers have been addressing this crisis in coordination with our international partners, working with their counterparts in Central America to address migratory push and pull factors. ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations is working alongside their counterparts in Central America to target transnational criminal organizations that facilitate the smuggling of migrants. Just last month, ICE/HSI in Panama dismantled a Nicaraguan-based transnational criminal organization responsible for the smuggling of over 250 extra-hemispheric migrants, who ultimately sought entry into the United States.
The Department is continuing to press Congress for supplemental funding and targeted changes to our legal immigration framework. However, because of congressional inaction, we have had to ask even more of our federal partners to address this crisis.
FLEOA’s very own Executive Vice President Larry Cosme spent 45 days at the border with ICE/HSI doing missions. Additionally, FLEOA member and Federal Air Marshalls Service Agency President Bill Bellar spent 45 days at the border supporting our efforts as well. These leaders are two of among many who stepped up beyond their ordinary duties to help during this crisis – so, I want to extend my thanks to all FLEOA members who assisted.
We will continue the fight to reduce irregular migratory flows, so that our Department’s law enforcement assets can return to the jobs they signed up to do: stopping criminals crossing the border. I truly appreciate our federal law enforcement partners across all agencies for the role they have played in addressing this challenge.
Next, I want to pivot to the opioid crisis which is demanding significant effort on behalf of our federal law enforcement community to address.
Our Department is committed to interdicting drugs at or before the Border – before they make it into American communities – and several of our Department’s Components are involved in the effort.
First – at sea – the Coast Guard plays a critical role in border security by pushing out our borders more than 1,500 miles with a persistent offshore presence to target the major profit source of cartels – cocaine. We know that profits from cocaine allow cartels to fund their entire spectrum of illicit products, including opioid trafficking. To date in FY 2019, the Coast Guard has removed nearly 375,000 pounds of cocaine – more than all federal agencies combined – and apprehended over 500 suspected smugglers.
Second – at the border – CBP and ICE work in coordination to seize thousands of pounds of illicit drugs each year. In FY 2018, CBP and ICE seized nearly 5000 pounds of fentanyl – enough to kill every American several times over.
Third – in the mail environment – CBP and ICE partnerships with the Postal Inspectors, DEA, and state and local law enforcement have identified and disrupted multiple sources shipping and distributing deadly fentanyl into this country, saving countless lives.
In FY 2018, ICE/HSI logged over 520,000 investigative hours toward fentanyl and heroin cases.
ICE/HSI currently operates Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BESTs) in 65 locations throughout the United States, having grown by 40 percent in response to the President’s Executive Order on transnational criminal organizations. BESTs leverage the participation of more than 1,600 federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agents and officers, representing over 200 law enforcement agencies that target opioid smuggling.
Additionally, ICE/HSI trained over 4,000 domestic and international law enforcement partners on darknet markets and illicit payment networks associated with fentanyl smuggling and distribution.
Several of our ICE/HSI officers were recently recognized by FLEOA for investigative excellence, along with Officers from the Houston Police Department, the DEA, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In “Operation Diver Down,” ICE/HSI Houston initiated a two-and-half-year long investigation, which infiltrated and dismantled one of the largest heroin smuggling organizations ever encountered by ICE/HSI. The organization produced more than 7800 kilograms of high purity Afghani heroin every year, for distribution worldwide. Thanks to the hard work of those involved in this investigation, all subjects of the investigation, including both consolidated priority organizational targets, pleaded guilty by the end of last year.
I am appreciative of the all the work our federal law enforcement agents do to address the opioid crisis, and I will continue to commit the resources of the Department to assist in the effort.
Lastly – the history of recent tragedies reminds us of the need to address the threat posed by domestic terrorism and targeted acts of violence.
I take this threat seriously.
In the domestic terrorism space, the Department provides support to our federal agency partners at the FBI, who lead the U.S. Government in domestic terrorism investigations. We also play a significant role in Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), with the highest participation in JTTFs of any Department. Through our collaborative work as law enforcement and first responders – with extended reach to emergency managers, mental health providers, school safety professionals, and others – we can take strides to address domestic terrorism.
To do so, the Department is moving aggressively in our core mission areas of prevention and protection.
This threat requires a “whole of society” – as well as a “whole of government” – approach to prevention. As research has consistently shown, the factors that drive terrorists and other violent actors to violence are almost always observed by those who know these individuals best. Families, friends, and other bystanders are often the ones who notice warning signs that an individual is mobilizing to violence.
The Department is working hard to provide local communities with the resources to act when someone is in need. To this end, in April I created the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention to better harmonize the prevention mission at DHS. This office is now hard at work implementing a series of efforts that are surging DHS resources to keep you and your communities safe from targeted violence and terrorism.
Another key player in this space is the USSS and their National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), which leads the world in law enforcement threat analysis. NTAC works across the country to help bystanders and communities identify at-risk individuals by sharing threat assessment models.
This summer, NTAC released their latest report – Mass Attacks in Public Spaces, or MAPs – which found that in the vast majority of cases of mass attacks and targeted violence, concerns had been raised about the attackers at some point along their mobilization to violence – providing an opportunity for intervention with a whole of community effort.
As we say often at the Department, “If You See Something, Say Something.” Doing so is critical to prevention.
In the protection space, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency works with the private sector to secure soft targets and crowded places. CISA sends PSAs around the country for site evaluations, to ensure that soft targets are hardened against attacks.
Our federal agency partner, the Federal Protective Service, does the same for our government buildings, performing sight and security evaluations on all the buildings they secure, ensuring there are no gaps in security. FPS defends the most critically important element of the Department – our people.
With a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, we can become more vigilant in prevention and preparedness to make our communities and nation safer.
In closing, I want to highlight one additional focus of our Department’s federal law enforcement mission, which is of increasing relevance as we move into an election year.
Over the past five months as Acting Secretary, I have developed a tangible appreciation for the extraordinary professionalism and diligence of USSS in their protection of me and my family.
Their work is outstanding, and it cannot be done without the coordination of federal partners. Ahead of this month’s 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), USSS is working diligently with interagency partners, including the FBI, to secure the event and provide protection to world leaders.
And looking forward to 2020, USSS has begun formal coordination for the RNC 2020 in Charlotte and the DNC 2020 in Milwaukee. USSS is actively partnering with DHS Components, as well as its federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, in developing and staffing
mission-specific security plans for National Special Security Events. This critical work of USSS will serve to provide the safest possible venues for these events, while also minimizing the impact on citizens of these cities.
Thank you, in advance, to USSS for all you will do to ensure the protection of UNGA and candidates in the 2020 election. And thank you to one of FLEOA’s own, former Secret Service agent Don Mihalek, for the leadership you provide FLEOA and for the leadership you continue to provide the Service. I heard you received FLEOA’s Bob Van Etten Legacy of Honor award this year – exemplifying unwavering selfless sacrifice and dedication to this nation, the law enforcement community, FLEOA, and all those around you – which is all we can ask of our nation’s federal law enforcement officers and agents coming up through the ranks.
I want to reiterate my gratitude to all of you – FLEOA members from each of the 65 agencies – for the work you do every day to protect this country. I am proud to lead the men and women of law enforcement at the Department, and I am proud to support the federal law enforcement community across the board. Thank you for your continued support of the Department of Homeland Security.