In his first visit to Chicago since becoming director of the FBI, James Comey said today he is “painfully aware” of the city’s seemingly intractable gun violence and plans to direct more federal resources at the problem.
Comey, who was in town meeting with staffers in his Chicago field office, told reporters in a brief news conference at the FBI’s headquarters on the West Side that new congressional funding will allow for 2,000 new hires nationally over the next year and a half.
“New agents are coming. New analysts are coming” Comey said. “…and I’m sure that one of the ways we can deploy those resources is to try and help with violent crime in a city like Chicago.”
Flanking Comey at the news conference were Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy and U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, who both have been under pressure to do more to rein in gang violence that has made headlines around the country.
There are currently about 100 FBI special agents in Chicago devoted to violent crime, many working on joint task forces with local police and prosecutors, Comey said.
Comey said reducing the number of shootings is difficult in a city like Chicago that has an “embedded, longstanding” gang culture that can’t be solved simply by stepping up arrests. It’s a problem he remembers from his days as a law student at the University of Chicago in the early 1980s, he said.
“There is not an easy answer on violent crime, especially gang-related crime that is so embedded in the culture,” he said. “Chicago has a larger and more ingrained and sophisticated street gang structure than many American cities…You can’t arrest your way to a healthy neighborhood.”
More than a decade after 9/11, Comey said counterterrorism still “is and should be the FBI’s No. 1 priority,” but he added the challenges have changed. The threat from groups like al-Qaeda has shifted from countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan and into regions with weaker governments like north Africa, he said. There is also a constant threat of “homegrown” terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombings a year ago.
“These al Qaeda-inspired homegrown violent extremists emerge to kill people as some kind of misguided jihad,” Comey said. “That is not a Boston problem or a Chicago problem or a Texas problem. It’s an everywhere problem because misguided people can be found anywhere in the United States.”