‘Operation LeGend’; federal agents coming to St. Louis to combat violent crime

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Federal agents are being sent to some cities across the United States as a part of Operation LeGend. It is a federal partnership with local law enforcement to address an increase in homicides. The effort started in Kansas City after LeGend Taliferro, 4, was one of the youngest victims during a record-breaking year of homicides and shootings. Now, they are coming to St. Louis.

There are 50 Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officers will be in St. Louis. They will be supplemented by the Missouri Highway Patrol. More prosecutors from the Missouri Attorney General’s office will be assisting the federal prosecutions.

“Violent crime in the city of St. Louis is intolerable lately. We all know that it is a community problem. But, when you’re trying to build a community’s health, we just can’t do it with this level of violent crime. The long term solutions. We need to keep striving for those like education, employment, stronger families, respect for the law, and human life. But, policing and law enforcement is also an important part of the solution,” said U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen.

The federal agents will be sent to the most distressed neighborhoods and they will be focused on gangs, active shooters, and murders. They will also be responding to “shot-spotter” incidents. The agents will be a part of existing federal task forces in the area. Operation LeGend is not a permanent project. Jensen says he expects the agents will go home when their work is done.

These are not federal troops assigned to. protect federal properties or deal with protests. They have been sent to St. Louis to deal with the epidemic of violent crime.

St. Louis will become the 7th city to have more federal agents assigned to the city. Memphis will also receive Operation LeGend agents today.

“What happens in St. Louis is a huge factor for the entire state. It is just not a St. Louis problem. This is a state problem when these crime rates are going as high as they are, especially homicides,” said Gov. Parson.

Prosecutors and investigators are changing their tactics. They are currently monitoring several criminal conspiracies. Normally they try to work their way to the top of an organization before arrests begin. Now, they will start making arrests sooner. This will hopefully save lives by putting suspects behind bars before they commit a violent crime in conjunction with the gang or other criminal organization that is under federal investigation.

U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen says is not a response to St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Garder’s re-election. This project has been in the works for a while. He expects to refer non-federal cases to Gardner’s office.

“I support this effort. Over the last few months, we’ve seen an unprecedented surge in violent and deadly crime plaguing our City. During the months of June and July alone, our police officers responded to 85 homicides and numerous other non-fatal shootings. This continued violence is cutting lives short and devastating hundreds of victims, family members, and loved ones. We must hold the perpetrators of this crime accountable. At a time when our police department is facing a serious shortage of approximately 140 officers, we need additional resources to help us investigate violent crimes, make arrests, and deter additional violent offenses across the City,” Mayor Lyda Krewson writes in a statement.

Federal prosecutors worked Wednesday to dispel concerns that federal agents headed to a number of U.S. cities will be used to break up protests, insisting that the agents will work side-by-side with local and state investigators to solve violent crimes.

President Donald Trump recently sent federal agents to Portland, Oregon, to protect federal property during the almost daily protests in the city since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The move has drawn heavy criticism because the agents have been accused of overstepping that mandate, arresting people without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force. Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, said Wednesday that the agents would begin a “phased withdrawal” from Portland starting Thursday.

Trump announced last week that he was sending agents to more U.S. cities, including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, to combat a rise in violent crime as part of an operation that started last year. The operation was dubbed Operation Relentless Pursuit but was renamed Operation Legend after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro was shot and killed in Kansas City, Missouri, last month.

That announcement that federal agents would be deployed through Operation Legend raised fears among Democrats that those agents’ real mission would be to bust up protests and make liberal-leaning cities look bad as Trump seeks to win re-election.

“This president is abusing his power and public resources to fuel a twisted campaign strategy,” Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, California, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Matthew Krueger, the U.S. attorney in Milwaukee, told reporters during a news conference earlier Wednesday that the media was confusing agents’ missions. Agents being sent to cities other than Portland were part of a U.S. Department of Justice effort to bolster manpower in high-crime cities dubbed Operation Legend, he said. That initiative began in December. It was supposed to have been expanded this spring but the coronavirus pandemic delayed that move until this month, he said.

Krueger said he spent the last week updating local and state authorities in Wisconsin on the agents’ mission and stressed that the agents wouldn’t be used to go after protesters and instead would work with local authorities, just as federal agents have long done.

“If you use the words Portland, Oregon, you only sow confusion,” he said. “You will not see federal agents amassing on the streets of Milwaukee. These aren’t beat cops. They’re trained investigators.”

He said a total of 25 to 30 agents from the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alochol, Tobacco and Firearms would be deployed in Milwaukee. Ten who arrived this month are in the city temporarily. The others will be permanently assigned to the city.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said that after speaking with Kreiger, she is supportive of the operation in Milwaukee. She said she was pleased that he was clarifying the mission and faulted Trump’s administration for not being clear from the outset.

“I’m glad there’s been some clarification and we want to be kept apprised, very frequently, about what this operation is about,” Baldwin said in a Milwaukee Press Club online event.

In Detroit, federal authorities said dozens of agents and deputy marshals were being assigned to the city to combat gun violence and arrest fugitives, among other tasks. They will collaborate with the local police.

Matthew Schneider, the U.S. attorney for eastern Michigan, said “federal troops” would not be patrolling the streets and he dismissed as “irresponsible rhetoric” any suggestion that the government wants to disrupt lawful protests against racism and the excessive use of force by police.

Earlier this week, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said more than 500 guns were seized during a recent four-week period. He welcomed any additional federal help.

During a news conference Wednesday, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio said Operation Legend in Cleveland and surrounding communities will involve 25 agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisting local and state law enforcement agencies.

U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said agents will be permanently assigned to existing violent crime task forces to address gang violence, narcotics-related shootings and illegal firearms.

“It is not an introduction of federal riot police; it is not an introduction of federal uniformed personnel; it is not an introduction of federal agents to protect federal property,” Herdman said.

Democratic mayors said on their conference call that they were afraid Operation Legend could quickly shift toward breaking up protests. Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said his city was set to receive agents but had no formal agreement with the Justice Department on their mission.

“These missions change at the whim of the White House,” Keller said. “There’s no reason to trust words at a press conference any more with this administration.”

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