By Sarah N. Lynch
(Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday boasted that the increased presence of federal agents in Chicago over the past few weeks helped contribute to a 50 percent drop in murders, a claim that the city's Democratic mayor sharply disputed.
Barr appeared in Chicago for a news conference alongside other federal law enforcement officials to tout the impact of Operation Legend, an initiative to crack down on violent crime through surges of federal agents in various U.S. cities.
Republican President Donald Trump has made "law and order" a theme of his campaign for re-election on Nov. 3.
"Operation Legend's success is perhaps most dramatic here in Chicago," said Barr, a Trump appointee. "When the operation was announced on July 22, homicides in the city were up 51 percent over 2019. Over the first five weeks of Operation Legend in Chicago, murders dropped by 50 percent."
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who did not attend Barr's news conference, accused the attorney general of misleading the public.
"It's just factually inaccurate," Lightfoot said during a news conference of her own.
"We started to see a downward trend in shootings and homicides really beginning in late July," Lightfoot said. "The first additional federal agents who came to Chicago as a part of Operation Legend didn't even get here until August 3, and those were a trickle over the course of a month."
Lightfoot added that while Chicago values its longstanding partnerships with federal law enforcement agencies, "nobody should be taking a victory lap."
Barr unveiled Operation Legend in July at the same time that protests were raging in Portland, Oregon over the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose death in police custody in Minneapolis in May led to protests in many cities against racism and police brutality. Barr has said Operation Legend was formed to combat violent crime, not to deal with civil unrest.
The operation started in Kansas City on July 8 and has been expanded to Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Memphis and Indianapolis.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)