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President Trump announced Wednesday a surge of federal law enforcement into Chicago and other cities as part of a crime-fighting initiative that officials say is different than the government’s controversial actions in Portland, Ore.
The agency will send agents with the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service to Kansas City, Mo., Albuquerque, N.M., Chicago and other American cities to confront recent spikes in crime, Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced at the White House.
Trump said the initiative first announced on July 8, named “Operation Legend” after a 4-year-old boy, LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed last month in Kansas City. The program will also give $61 million in grants to the involved cities to hire more police officers.
He lambasted what he described as an “antipolice crusade” that has led to surges in crime.
“The effort [from local officials] to shut down policing in their own communities has led to a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence,” Trump said. “This bloodshed must end.”
Crime and policing experts have attributed the spike in crime to many factors — such as a breakdown in police-community relations and stress from the pandemic — while cautioning against looking too closely at a relatively short period to determine crime trends.
Agents from the Department of Homeland Security will assist local law enforcement as part of the partnership, acting Secretary Chad Wolf said Wednesday. They will also help investigate cases involving transnational gangs and narcotics trafficking.
The department is under scrutiny for its alleged actions in Portland, which residents and local officials say has included officers in military uniform — but without identification — patrolling the streets and unlawfully detaining protesters, claims that the agency has denied. The city has seen more than 50 days of demonstrations against police violence prompted by the killing of George Floyd.
But both Wolf and Barr insisted that Operation Legend is unrelated to what’s occurring in Portland.
“In Portland, we see almost two months of coordinated, violent attacks by anarchists against a federal courthouse and federal law enforcement officials sworn to protect it,” Wolf said. “In Chicago, we see an unprecedented rise in crime against fellow citizens. The DHS mission in Portland is to protect federal property and our law enforcement officers. In Chicago, the mission is to protect the public from violent crime on the streets.”
Barr said Operation Legend aims to enforce federal law.
“We’re talking about the standard crime-fighting activities we have been carrying out across the country for decades,” he said. “These are street agents, investigators, working to solve murders and working shoulder-to-shoulder with state and local colleagues.”
In advance of the announcement, Trump hinted at a national effort to fight crime, criticizing Democratic mayors for the violence in their cities. Both Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to fight Trump’s administration in court if they took such actions.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Lightfoot concurred that Operation Legend appears to be different than Portland, and noted that the federal agents will be supervised by John Lausch, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
“Federal agents who are here in Chicago have been here for decades,” she told reporters. “We routinely work in partnership with them. They know the city and they live here.”
Lightfoot said that the initiative will send agents, not uniformed law enforcement like in Portland, who will be aiding criminal investigations in the city. But she also seemed skeptical of the effort.
“That doesn’t mean [Trump is] not going to try it here in Chicago,” she said. “We have to remain diligent. And I am calling on all Chicagoans, that if you see something that doesn’t look right, please don’t hesitate to report it.”
The deployment of federal law enforcement to U.S. cities is stirring up controversy on Capitol Hill. Earlier on Wednesday, 27 Democratic senators, including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar, sent Barr and Wolf a letter raising questions about “disturbing reports” of unidentified federal officers responding violently to protesters in various cities.
Democratic senators also on Wednesday morning used an intelligence committee nomination hearing for two mid-level officials to castigate the Trump administration for its decision to deploy federal agents into American cities to police civil unrest.
Describing his home town of Portland has having been “invaded by militarized federal law enforcement,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon accused the administration of “essentially fascist practices that until recently would have been unthinkable in America.”
Wyden, who is has been a strong critic of the administration on intelligence issues, used his time during the hearing to focus on what he portrayed a pressing domestic issue. “If the line is not drawn in the sand right now,” Wyden said, “America may be staring down the barrel of martial law in the middle of a presidential election.”
The Oregon senator’s comments came during a hearing to consider Trump’s nomination of two officials for positions in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence: Patrick Hovakimian for general counsel and Christopher Miller for director of the National Counterterrorism Center. However, Wyden focused his questioning of Hovakimian on issues related to his current position at the Justice Department.
“Do you believe that unidentified federal forces in unmarked cars can drive around seizing and detaining American citizens?” Wyden asked.
Given repeated opportunities, Hovakimian seemed unable or unwilling to answer the question directly. Hovakimian preferred to repeat his view that “generally speaking … it’s a great idea to identify oneself as a federal law enforcement officer” and that the department “takes the constitutional rights of Americans very seriously.”
Following Wyden’s remarks, Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said he had been informed Tuesday by U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson that, as part of the expansion of Operation Legend, federal law enforcement agents would be sent to Albuquerque.
“We don’t want the Portland model coming to the city of Albuquerque, frankly,” Heinrich said.
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