Justice Department Expands Operation Legend to Memphis and St Louis

Justice Department Expands Operation Legend to Memphis and St Louis
A young man walks in front of a police patrol parked in front of a high school a day after violent clashes between police and protesters broke out on streets overnight in Memphis, Tenn., on June 13, 2019. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)
Janita Kan

The Justice Department (DOJ) announced on Thursday that Operation Legend will be expanded to Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri, as part of efforts to reduce violent crime in those cities.

Operation Legend, named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while sleeping in his home, was first launched in Kansas City, Missouri, as part of Trump’s promise to assist cities that have been hit by a recent string of violence, the DOJ said. The operation has since been expanded to Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

Attorney General William Barr said that the two cities have recently been experiencing spikes in violent crime. Memphis saw an increase in homicides by 49 percent, reported gun crime by 23 percent, and aggravated shootings by 19 percent over 2019, the department said. Meanwhile, St Louis saw a nearly 34 percent rise of homicides and a 13 percent spike in non-fatal shootings.

“The most basic responsibility of government is to protect the safety of our citizens,” Barr said in a statement. “The Department of Justice’s assets will supplement local law enforcement efforts, as we work together to take the shooters and chronic violent criminals off of our streets.”

Officials say 16 federal investigators will be sent to Memphis on temporary assignment for 90 days, followed by 24 permanent agent assignments, who will supplement state and local law enforcement agencies in fighting violent gangs, gun crime, and drug trafficking organizations. Additional funding will also be made available to assist in the effort in the city as well as fund the hiring of 50 more police officers.

Similarly in St Louis, federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as well as 50 agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be sent to augment the local law enforcement resources.

The announcement to surge federal agents and resources to cities across the country has raised concerns from Democrats on whether the real purpose of the deployment is to disrupt protests and rioting that erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd and to score election points for President Donald Trump, who is running on a “law and order” platform.

House Democrats during a recent Judiciary Committee hearing with Barr criticized the operation and grilled the attorney general over the initiative. During the hearing, Barr pushed back criticism, saying that the characterizations attempt to conflate Operation Legend and the federal deployment in Portland, Oregon, which the Trump administration has faced intense scrutiny for.

“You’ve conflated two different things. The effort, like [Operation] Legend, is to deal with violent crime. ... That does not involve encountering protesters, as you refer to it. Civil disturbance is a separate set of issues,” Barr said. “And I just reject the decision that the department is flooded anywhere in an attempt to suppress demonstrators.”

The agents sent to Portland are tasked with protecting the federal courthouse after weeks of consecutive rioting that saw significant damage to the building and dozens of law enforcement agents injured. Local and state officials have criticized the Trump administration for the deployment, saying that the federal agents had escalated the matter and had engaged in alleged unconstitutional conduct when detaining rioters on the streets of the city.

The plan to expand the initiative to the two cities has been welcomed by local officials. St Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, said she supported the effort as it was her “highest priority” to protect the health and safety of over 300,000 people who live in the city.

“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,” Krewson said in a statement.

“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,” she said.

Similarly, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland underscored that the operation is a “violent crime reduction effort” and not “an introduction of federal riot police, uniformed personnel, or other federal agents to protect federal property, and is not intended to introduce any additional ICE resources to enforce immigration offenses.”

“As I said earlier this week, we need more officers to investigate violent crimes to get violent criminals off our streets. As long as these federal agents are focused on this task, we will be supportive,” Strickland said in a statement.
The DOJ first launched the operation in early July, saying that it would begin operating in Kansas City, Missouri. Later in the month, Trump announced the expansion of the operation to other cities.

“This rampage of violence shocks the conscience of our nation and we will not stand by and watch it happen,” Trump said at the time. “No mother should ever have to cradle her dead child in her arms simply because politicians refuse to do what is necessary to secure their neighborhood and to secure their city.”