Teams of federal and local authorities have made more than 1,000 arrests, including suspects in 90 homicides, as part of a national crackdown on violent crime in nine U.S. cities, Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday.
Barr’s announcement comes more than a month after the Trump administration launched the enforcement effort, known as Operation Legend.
Last week, Kansas City, Missouri, authorities announced the arrest of a suspect in the slaying of LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy for whom the effort was named, after about 200 federal agents had been dispatched to the city.
“For us, LeGend is a symbol of the many hundreds of innocent lives that have been taken in the recent upsurge of crime in many of our cities this summer,” Barr said at briefing in Kansas City. “His life mattered; his name should be remembered. And his senseless death, like that of other innocent victims during the recent surge of violent crime, should be unacceptable to all Americans.”
Even as violent crime has surged in several U.S. cities, local leaders have expressed concern for the recent federal deployments after federal officers engaged in high profile clashes with protesters in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., in demonstrations against police brutality following the May 25 death of George Floyd.
As recently as Tuesday, officials in Memphis, one of the nine cities included in the operation, expressed their disapproval for the increased federal presence.
Memphis Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas feared that the operation, which deployed about 40 federal agents to the city, had “the potential to go well beyond its scope.”
The local concern brought a sharp rebuke from Michael Dunavant, the chief federal prosecutor in Memphis.
“With all due respect to the council, no one’s permission is necessary for us to surge these federal resources into Memphis,” Dunavant told the council. “Federal law still applies here on the streets of Memphis. As long as I’m the United States Attorney, we will, in fact, aggressively, consistently, and unapologetically enforce that federal law against the worst of the worst criminals for harming our citizens and terrorizing our community.”
Barr has maintained that the additional officers are only assisting in combating local violence and will not take part in crowd control duties that have drawn federal agents into clashes with street protesters.
The federal forces in Portland and D.C. included large contingents of immigration enforcement authorities drawn from the Department of Homeland Security. Operation Legend officers are being dispatched from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives.
Starting in Kansas City, Barr has dispatched dozens of officers to Chicago, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee, St. Louis, Memphis and Indianapolis. The arrest statistics reflect operations in all cities, with the exception of Indianapolis, which was only added to federal effort days ago.
Of the arrests so far, Barr said that more than 200 suspects have been charged with federal crimes. About half of those involve firearm offenses.
“Operation Legend is the heart of the federal government’s response to this uptick in violent crime,” Barr said Wednesday. “Its mission is to save lives, solve crimes, and take violent offenders off our streets before they can claim more victims.”
Barr has said the arrest in the Taliferro murder marked a “significant step forward” in the Kansas City investigation and “illustrates the potential of Operation Legend more broadly.”
“Operation Legend is not to harass,” said Charron Powell, the mother of the young Kansas City victim, at a White House event last month to call attention to the effort. “It’s not to harm or to hurt. It is to help investigate unsolved murders, in which one of those happens to be our innocent, 4-year-old son. This operation is personal to us. We want justice for our son and others. We have to take a stand in our communities and speak up to help this operation be successful.”
Contributing: Kristine Phillips and Samuel Hardiman