President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced Wednesday federal agents will surge into several American cities including Chicago to help combat rising crime.
"Today I'm taking action to fulfill the sacred obligation," Trump said in a White House speech. "In recent weeks, there's been a radical movement to defund, dismantle, and dissolve our police departments. Extreme politicians have joined this anti-police crusade and relentlessly, vilified our law enforcement heroes.
"To look at it from any standpoint, the effort to shut policing in their own communities has led to a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes, violence. This bloodshed must end.
"This bloodshed will end. Today I'm announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime. We will work every single day to restore public safety, protect our nation's children, and bring violent perpetrators to justice."
The administration's intervention in local enforcement comes as Trump runs for re-election under a "law-and-order" mantle. AG Barr, DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, and FBI Director Christopher Wray were among the officials to speak at the White House.
"Every American, no matter their income, race, or zip code, should be able to walk the city streets free from violence and free from fear," Trump said in his speech. "For this reason today, I am announcing the department of justice will immediately surge federal law enforcement to the city of Chicago.
"The FBI, ATF, Dea, U.S. Marshals service, and homeland security will together be sending hundreds of skilled law enforcement officers to Chicago to help drive down violent crime."
Hundreds of federal agents already have been sent to Kansas City, Missouri, to help quell a record rise in violence after the shooting death of a young boy there. Sending federal agents to help localities is not uncommon. Barr announced a similar surge effort in December for seven cities that had seen spiking violence.
"Operation Legend" is named after a 4-year-old boy, LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while sleeping in his home.
"To LeGend's family, we cannot begin to imagine your anguish and sorrow but we solemnly promise to honor LeGend," Trump said. "We will be fighting every day to save the lives of America's children under 'Operation Legend.'
"We will also soon send federal law enforcement to other cities that need help. Other cities need help. They need it badly. They should call, they should want it. They are too proud or too political to do that."
Usually, the Justice Department sends agents under its own umbrella, like agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the Drug Enforcement Agency. But this surge effort will include Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers, who generally conduct drug trafficking and child exploitation investigations.
Trump and Barr are expected to be joined at the White House announcement Wednesday by Chicago-based U.S. Attorney John Lausch, according to his office, along with the U.S. attorney and the sheriff of New Mexico's most populous county that includes Albuquerque.
"We want the American dream for American children, and I will fight to deliver that dream," Trump said. "Every single ounce of my strength I will be fighting.
"But opportunity cannot thrive without prosperity. Prosperity cannot flourish where there are violent criminals who can maim and murder with immunity. That's what 'Operation Legend' is all about. That's why we are here today, to answer the pleas of those crying for justice and crying for help. For those people in Chicago and other cities where we'll be, help is on its way."
DHS officers have already been dispatched to Portland, Oregon, and other localities to protect federal property and monuments as Trump has lambasted efforts by protesters to knock down Confederate statutes. Trump has linked the growing violence in the streets with protests over racial injustice, though criminal justice experts say the spike defies easy explanation, pointing to the unprecedented moment the country is living through — with a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, stay-at-home orders, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather.
Local authorities have also complained the surges in federal agents have only exacerbated tensions on the streets.
The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyper-politicized moment when Trump is trying to show he is a "law-and-order" president and painting Democratic-led cities as out of control. With less than four months to go before Election Day, Trump has been serving up dire warnings that the violence would worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November, as he tries to win over voters who could be swayed by that message.
"My administration will be working to remove dangerous offenders, sprung loose by these deadly policies and deadly politicians, frankly," Trump added. "America is a sanctuary for law abiding citizens. The lawlessness that's being pushed by the extreme radical left is unacceptable; others want to defund, defame, and abolish the police, we want to support and honor our great police."
The spike in crime has hit hard in some cities with resources already stretched thin from the pandemic. But the move to send in federal forces was initially rejected by leaders in Chicago and New York, another city with a surge in violence.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot later said she and other local officials had spoken with federal authorities and come to an understanding.
"I've been very clear that we welcome actual partnership," the Democratic mayor said Tuesday after speaking with federal officials. "But we do not welcome dictatorship. We do not welcome authoritarianism, and we do not welcome unconstitutional arrest and detainment of our residents. That is something I will not tolerate."
In New Mexico, meanwhile, Democratic elected officials were cautioning Trump against any possible plans to send federal agents to the state, with Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., calling on Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who will be at the White House on Wednesday, to resign.
"Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the president's stormtroopers into Albuquerque," Heinrich said in a statement.
But federal gun crimes generally carry much stiffer penalties than state crimes — and larger-scale federal investigations that can cross state lines tend to make a big impact.
The Justice Department will reimburse Chicago $3.5 million for local law enforcement's work on the federal task force. Through a separate federal fund, Chicago received $9.3 million to hire 75 new officers.
Two dozen agents will be sent to Albuquerque, and the administration made available $1.5 million in funding for the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department for five new deputies and $9.4 million for 40 new Albuquerque officers.
In Kansas City, the top federal prosecutor said any agents involved in an operation to reduce violent crime in the area will be clearly identifiable when making arrests, unlike what has been seen in Portland.
"These agents won't be patrolling the streets," U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison said. "They won't replace or usurp the authority of local officers."
Operation Legend — named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was fatally shot while sleeping in a Kansas City apartment late last month — was first announced July 8. The first arrest came earlier this week.
Garrison has said the additional 225 federal agents from the FBI, DEA, ATF and the U.S. Marshals Service join 400 agents already working and living in the Kansas City area.
The Trump administration is facing growing pushback in Portland. Multiple lawsuits have been filed questioning the federal government's authority to use broad policing powers in cities. One suit filed Tuesday says federal agents are violating protesters' 10th Amendment rights by engaging in police activities designated to local and state governments.
Oregon's attorney general sued last week, asking a judge to block federal agents' actions. The state argued that masked agents had arrested people on the streets without probable cause and far from the U.S. courthouse that's become a target of vandalism.
Federal authorities, however, said state and local officials had been unwilling to work with them to stop the vandalism and violence against federal officers and the U.S. courthouse.
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