New Cleveland FBI Head Prioritizes Partnerships And Predictive Thinking

Eric Smith is the new special agent in charge of the Cleveland FBI office
Eric Smith is the new special agent in charge of the Cleveland FBI office [Federal Bureau of Investigation]

London, Ohio, native Eric Smith is back in the Buckeye state as Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland FBI office.

The return marks Smith's third stint in Cleveland after a supervisory role in counterrorism in 2008 and assistant special agent for counterterrorism and cybersecurity in 2013. Smith was most recently a special assistant to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

After touring more than 50 field offices in the U.S., Smith described Cleveland as the "best field office in the country", with a slight grin and nod to his lack of objectivity.

Smith laid out three priorities to his staff when he met with them Tuesday: process, partnerships and predictive thinking.

Process refers to the FBI's method of building a case against a particular suspect. Smith says he stressed pursuing cases the "right way at the right time," adding the goal is that some "may disagree with the case, but not with how we got there."

Smith says partnerships are critical to everything the FBI does, whether it's working with law enforcement to combat the opioid epidemic or private sector partners in tackling pressing issues in the community. Smith also noted the importance of partnerships with the media in assisting the FBI in distribution of photographs of suspects and with the public in the "see something, say something" vein.

Smith lamented what might have been a lack of predictive thinking in the opioid crisis, saying the FBI didn't "make the connection from overprescribing opioids to the increase in street drugs" until the epidemic had taken hold.

Smith wants his agents to always stay ahead of the threat and think strategically about what the next crisis might be. He noted an increase in drugs laced with fentanyl and cited an overprescribing of depression medication as another potential epidemic the FBI should be thinking about.

While Smith was unable to discuss specific cases, he called mentall illness the hardest problem for law enforcement to grasp. He again mentioned partnerships with mental health professionals to assist investigations and also help determine if suspects are mentally fit enough or capable of going through the criminal justice system.

Another potential initiative under Smith is using Cleveland as a test market for everything, and he says he's made his willingness known to FBI headquarters. Smith wants his agents to think "outside the box but inside the rules" while investigating.

The Cleveland FBI office is currently handling 981 criminal cases and 230 national security cases.

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