Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
International Police Executive Symposium
May 12, 2008
Thank you. I’m pleased to be here among so many distinguished researchers and police executives to talk about the changing face of law enforcement in our increasingly interconnected world.
The fading distinction between local crime-fighting and international policing is an issue that we in the United States have seriously grappled with since 9/11. As we are all well aware, the responsibilities of law enforcement have expanded into the realm of national security even as they remain focused on the safety of citizens and of individual communities. In addition to combating traditional street crimes like robbery, rape, and murder, law enforcement agencies now must work to protect American citizens against offenses that transcend international boundaries.
This has not been an easy transition, especially in an era of limited resources. But thanks to research and to a strengthening partnership between researchers and practitioners, we are finding ways to make that transition.
I want to use my time today to talk to you about some of the issues and challenges facing law enforcement in our global community, and to discuss how we’re dealing with them, both through our research and by way of hands-on assistance.
One of the interesting facts about criminal justice in the United States is that, unlike many nations, there is no single national criminal justice system. Every state, as well as the federal government, has its own set of criminal laws and procedures, which it enforces and adjudicates by its own authority. Moreover, most law enforcement activities are decentralized to counties, cities, and towns. At the moment, there are some 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States. And these are not just units of a larger single institution. They are separate and distinct entities overseeing their own jurisdictions and operating largely independently of each other.
It would be foolish to argue that this structure hasn’t posed some significant challenges to policing in our country, and globalization has only served to underscore those challenges. But by forcing us to work collaboratively and to share information, this deference to local autonomy has had the effect of positioning us to deal effectively with the problem of global crime.
I find your theme of “policing without borders” a very intriguing one. Many of you are familiar with the concept of community policing. It came into full flower in our country two decades ago as an acknowledgement of the need to strengthen law enforcement ties to the community. Up to that point, law enforcement agencies in many cases were seen as out of touch with the communities they served, and what you had was an often suspicious if not downright adversarial relationship between citizens and police officers. Community policing sought to change that by encouraging officers to identify and solve community problems with input from residents.
I find it interesting that today, we are in a sense reversing that focus. Where community policing forced us to localize our attention–to look inwardly, if you will–the circumstances brought upon us by globalization are requiring us to turn our vision outward. These are not mutually exclusive philosophies. Rather, they are a reflection of the dual nature of law enforcement that I mentioned earlier–of police as both community guardian and protector of national interests.
Perhaps a few examples will illustrate my meaning:
Among the gravest of international crimes are those that involve the trafficking in of people, and sex and forced labor are the two bedrocks of trafficking operations. We don’t know how many people are victims of human trafficking every year, but it’s safe to say that most are women and children and that they are often targeted based on financial circumstances and lack of a social safety net.
As I mentioned, sex and labor are the two central tenets, if you will, of human trafficking. Very often they go hand in hand, as in a recent case in western New York involving the owner of several massage parlors who forced employees to perform sexual acts on customers. In that case, an organization funded by our agency’s Office for Victims of Crime helped to secure restitution payments for the victims.
This was a relatively home-grown operation, yet it nevertheless involved three federal and three local law enforcement agencies, not to mention the U.S. Attorney’s Office as the prosecuting agency and a victim service organization. Coordination and cooperation were essential to the success of this case.
My agency, the Office of Justice Programs, supports 40 task forces like the one that brought this case. Each one is a collaboration of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and non-government service organizations covering multiple jurisdictions. The New York task force, for instance, covers 17 counties.
These task forces are part of a broader effort to fight human trafficking both at home and abroad. Even as we work to coordinate efforts here in the U.S., we’re working with other countries to get to the source of trafficking operations. Last year, our government supported efforts in 90 countries, providing outreach, training, and investigative assistance.
Human trafficking cases are so challenging in large part because trafficking operations are supported in so many different ways, and they often involve far-flung networks. One of the insidious elements of human trafficking is its association with organized crime. It’s no secret that traffickers are motivated by self-enrichment. The FBI has estimated that human trafficking generates an annual revenue of about $9.5 billion, much of it feeding the coffers of organized criminal activity. Human trafficking is a vile crime, but it’s also big business. And this is how we must approach it.
Human trafficking is by no means the only offense supported by organized crime. Organized criminals also have penetrated energy and strategic industry markets. They’re involved in smuggling contraband goods. They run lucrative money laundering operations and perpetrate sophisticated frauds. They’ve developed specialties in cyber crime. And, yes, they provide logistical and operational support to terrorists.
The Attorney General has made combating international organized crime a top priority of the Justice Department. A little over two weeks ago, he announced a new law enforcement strategy to address the problem. The aim of the strategy is to build consensus on priority targets and then work with international partners on disrupting those targets. It expressly recognizes the ability of organized criminals to operate unconstrained by national borders and geographic law enforcement jurisdictions – an advantage that we in law enforcement do not have.
The threat assessment that led to the strategy’s development found that international organized criminals have evolved away from traditional hierarchical structures and toward loose networks. Moreover, organized crime is better endowed, more sophisticated in means, and more closely tied to government institutions worldwide. All this makes the challenge of combating organized crime even greater.
One of the goals outlined in the organized crime strategy is to improve the collection, synthesis, and analysis of information about illicit operations and to ensure that that information is communicated across agencies and jurisdictions. We have already made great headway in shoring up our domestic information sharing capabilities, and we believe that those efforts can help to lay the groundwork for information sharing across national boundaries.
Through an effort called the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, we’ve been working to improve the way law enforcement and justice system agencies share data and criminal intelligence. One of the important products of that initiative is something called the National Information Exchange Model, or NIEM.
Basically, NIEM creates a common set of data definitions so that information can be communicated across disciplines when responding to events, whether critical incidents or in day-to-day operations. It does this by creating enterprise-wide exchange standards and processes. Simply put, NIEM becomes an interpreter between systems.
Another element of our information sharing efforts is the creation of fusion centers. Basically, a fusion center takes data from different sources and synthesizes it so that it can be shared in useful form with law enforcement agencies. Fusion centers draw from the expertise of local, state, and federal agencies, as well as the private sector, and can be a vital source of information analysis and dissemination.
The establishment of fusion centers is an important element of the National Strategy for Information Sharing, which President Bush released in October, and I believe this idea of fusing intelligence from multiple sources and enabling its dissemination will be very instructive to the international law enforcement community.
Our Regional Information Sharing System program, or RISS, as we call it, also provides a good model for information sharing internationally. Briefly, RISS comprises six regional intelligence centers in the U.S. that facilitate information sharing to support the investigative and prosecution efforts of some 7,000 member agencies. RISS centers provide state-of-the-art investigative support and training, analytical services, specialized equipment, secure information sharing technology, and secure encrypted e-mail and communication capabilities for state and local law enforcement. It also operates an automated system that enables the private sector and other non-law enforcement users to access threat information.
RISS, fusion centers, and NIEM all provide helpful lessons on how to effectively bring together multiple agencies for a common purpose.
Perhaps nowhere is the value of information sharing as clear as in the tracking and disruption of terrorist organizations. This is true, because as we are discovering in our research, links between terrorist operations and other criminal enterprises are growing stronger, so that even so-called “street” crimes may be the means of supporting broader terrorist objectives.
An excellent example of that in my own country is the series of gas station robberies in Los Angeles that allegedly has turned out to be the means of financing a plot to bomb synagogues in the area. We’ve seen other links between organized crime and terrorism, too, such as an arms trafficking operation that was intended to provide surface-to-air missiles and armor-piercing rocket launchers to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a State Department-designated terrorist organization.
Scholars predicted in the 90s that terrorism and transnational organized crime would soon converge. And indeed we are seeing a growing influence of organized criminals in terrorist operations. Research, including a study from our National Institute of Justice, has shown that often terrorists begin by simply imitating the criminal behavior around them, borrowing techniques like credit card fraud or forgery. They then move on to an interactive alliance, through the buying and selling of goods and services. In other words, they form a business partnership.
Often, these arrangements are short-lived. But in some cases, organized criminals and terrorist groups co-exist so closely, it’s difficult to tell them apart.
Our ongoing American Terrorism Study is uncovering some interesting information about terrorism organization and planning. For example, we have found that almost half of the terrorists resided in and planned their operations in fairly close proximity to their targets (within 30 miles). On average, planning for specific acts began three to four months before commission of the incident. And terrorists engaged in about two-and-a-half preparatory behaviors prior to the incident. These include not only administrative activities like meetings and supply purchases, but also crimes such as theft, counterfeiting, and procurement of false IDs.
These behavioral findings are revealing. They confirm that local law enforcement has a very important role to play in investigating and preventing terrorist activity. They also underscore the centrality of crime analysis in stopping terrorists. In fact, a study funded by our National Institute of Justice, states as its central recommendation that crime analysis should be incorporated in the work of intelligence analysts and law enforcement officers.
In October, we participated in a symposium with the Israeli Ministry of Public Security on the impact of global terrorism on police and policing. A theme of that symposium was the link between criminals and terrorists, and of the importance of determining responsibility for preventing terrorist acts. Israel’s Minister of Public Security spoke at that session, and he captured the challenge we are all facing. He said,
In regards to the battle against terror, reasonability is shared by the army, the Israel Security Agency, and the police. Although it is impossible to share responsibility in any other field, it is done here. When it comes to crime, there is one agency which bears the sole responsibility: the police. . . Yet when a suicide bomber reaches his target, whose responsibility is it? In a democratic society, we want to know who is responsible for our safety?
An easy question to which the answer is very complicated. Put simply, the answer is that we’re all responsible – law enforcement, homeland security, intelligence agencies, emergency and disaster planners, even the private sector. We all have a responsibility for being vigilant, for gathering information, and for sharing that information with our counterparts in other nations.
We need to adjust our mindset and to recognize that crime is no longer strictly a local matter confined to the streets and neighborhoods of our city maps. We are now part of a global enforcement community. The work that we do has implications that extend far beyond our own jurisdictions. What happens in our own hometowns very often does not stay in our hometowns.
Attorney General Mukasey put it this way recently: “International borders pose no hindrance to criminals, so we’re making sure those borders do not pose an obstacle to effective enforcement.”
Our research has given us a good look at how criminals operate in this era of globalization. It’s shown that they are calculating, nimble, technologically savvy, and motivated as much by money as by ideology. We can counter their activities, but we must think creatively and collaboratively about how to dissolve boundaries to cooperation. How quickly we move to do so will make the difference in neutralizing any advantages realized by criminals. This symposium is an excellent place to begin.
I thank you for your time and wish you success in your discussions.