Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the Small and Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association Annual Conference in Petersburg, VA on August 1, 2023.
Good morning, and thank you so much for having me here today. I was very touched by the fact that you mentioned I am a husband and a father. That is the greatest source of pride in my life.
The deadliest attack on our homeland since I was sworn in as Secretary over two years ago was not a mass attack by foreign terrorists like those that struck our country on September 11, nor was it a bombing of a high-visibility target like the one that detonated during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics or the 2018 pipe bomb mailings. It was the attack at Robb Elementary School last year in Uvalde, Texas – a town of just over 15,000 in the Texas Hill Country – where 19 students and two teachers were killed, and 17 others were injured.
I will not forget speaking to some of the Border Patrol and ICE Agents who assisted that day in response. I will not forget visiting with members of the grieving community, including family members who lost their loved ones. And I will not forget our Department's resolve following the tragedy to help prevent further attacks like that from being carried out in communities across America.
Our resolve is what I want to talk about with you this morning.
The Department of Homeland Security, the largest law enforcement organization in the federal government, was born in the wake of 9/11 and charged with keeping America safe from such attacks. The threat posed by foreign terrorism remains, but the most prominent terrorism-related threat we now confront is from lone offenders and small groups and individuals already present here in the United States.
These are individuals radicalized to violence based on ideologies of hate, anti-government sentiment, conspiracy theories, or personal grievances. These offenders are less concerned with highly valuable or highly visible targets than they are with highly convenient targets: schools, houses of worship, grocery stores, hospitals, and other places where communities gather in every town, everywhere. As you know all too well, we live in a world where any locality can be a target; where one can do incalculable damage using just a vehicle, a firearm, or a piece of software; where it can feel impossible to predict and prevent... these horrific attacks; and where it often winds up falling on law enforcement officers to pick up the pieces of a broken community.
I know this, too. Like you, I am committed to leading a Department that grows and evolves to meet the threats, and to ensuring every law enforcement agency – regardless of size, funding, or resources – is supported in their efforts to keep their communities, the communities you serve, safe and secure.
One way we support you is through information-sharing. We know that attacks rarely occur in a vacuum. The intelligence we collectively gather, be it on the federal level or by a phone call to the local sheriff from a concerned citizen, must make its way into the hands of the operators in the field who are ultimately responsible for protecting our people, our institutions, and our infrastructure. Our National Network of Fusion Centers offers one such focal point, [taking] criminal-activity intelligence gathered by the federal government, analyzing it, and distributing it in the context of the local environment, just as our National Terrorism Advisory System does for terrorist threats.
Additionally, over the past year, DHS has taken deliberate steps to strengthen and expand our information-sharing efforts, including by reinvigorating our Nationwide Suspicious Activity Report Initiative and Homeland Security Information Network; by launching DHS Intel, a phone app that delivers timely intelligence to law enforcement and first responders in real time; and by hosting bi-weekly threat calls through our Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
The full integration of small and rural law enforcement departments into that broader information-sharing network is essential to our collective security. Our partnership with the Small and Rural Law Enforcement Executives Association has already made an important difference – SRLEEA leadership takes part in those bi-weekly calls, and last month, we at DHS discussed a newly-developed Small and Rural Information Sharing Campaign at SRLEEA's Board of Governor’s meeting. I look forward to strengthening our partnership as we move towards implementation in the months ahead.
To paraphrase President Biden, however, a Department’s values are best expressed not in its words or actions, but in its budget. That is why one of my priorities as Secretary has been to modernize our Department’s grantmaking programs, including by updating grant formula methodologies to better recognize the needs of small and rural communities, and by increasing access to our grant programs for law enforcement agencies of all sizes and in every scale.
I want to return to a point that I made at the outset. There was a time, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, where it was the big cities and metropolitan areas that were thought to be the primary targets of foreign terrorists – and indeed they were. Over the last 20 years, that threat landscape has evolved. Now, our challenge is target-rich and resource-poor communities. It is not only about maintaining the capabilities of those urban areas to protect their communities, but it is vitally important that we build capacity throughout this country, in rural and small communities, where nearly 80% of the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies reside – to protect those communities, to protect your communities. The threat landscape has changed, and no community is target-free.
Our Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program – the only federal grant program solely dedicated to helping local communities strengthen, pilot, and share their preventative capabilities – is an example of what we are doing to spread, to increase, capabilities where they do not already exist. Though these grants have existed for years, last year we began to prioritize grants that would serve to implement prevention capabilities in small and rural communities. As a result, seven grant awards went to rural-serving organizations last year, and more are expected when we announce the next round of grants this coming month.
These long-overdue grantmaking adjustments do not limit our work or diminish our vigilance in hardening urban areas and high-visibility targets. Rather, they serve to increase our country’s capacity, efficiency, and efficacy, enabling us to better support the work of agencies and localities where we previously had little footprint.
The last 20 years have taught us that the threat environment is not static. As the strategies and policies of the Department continue to evolve, it is essential that the views, unique needs, and expertise of law enforcement agencies of every size and mission set have a permanent seat at our decision-making table.
I was very proud yesterday to announce that the DHS Office for State and Local Law Enforcement – which coordinates with and advocates within our Department for the 18,000 state, local, tribal, territorial, and campus law enforcement agencies across the country – I was very proud to announce that it will now report to me, the Secretary of Homeland Security. After 20 years, this Departmental realignment reflects not only the personal respect I have for our nation’s law enforcement officers, but the extraordinary role that the law enforcement community plays, and must play, in our Department’s day-to-day and long-term operations.
I wish I could tell you about all the tragedies these reforms and actions have prevented – the Uvalde averted, the Highland Park thwarted, the Charlottesville or Oak Creek or Scripps Health stopped, because we shared the right piece of information at the right time, or because a local police department had the necessary training and tools it needed in that moment. Those stories exist, even if they are not shareable or knowable. It is too often the case in law enforcement, as President Kennedy said in 1961, “your successes are unheralded, and your failures are trumpeted.”
That is why events like this and organizations like SRLEEA are important. They offer a chance to share what is working, to talk about what needs to change without fear of judgment, and to begin preparing for the threats and challenges communities across the country may soon face.
This event also offers me the chance to say thank you in person – thank you for your service, for your sacrifice, and for your commitment to the safety and resilience of your communities, of our communities across this great nation. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to join you here today, and I want to thank our host, Sheriff Vanessa Crawford, and the SRLEEA leadership – Sheriff Michael Brown, Chief Joseph Brooks III, Chief Kenny Antolik, Sheriff Kim Stewart, Bill Rogers, and Chief John Thompson, for the invitation. Congratulations on your inaugural conference, and here’s to many more to come. Thank you so much.