Trump administration sending ‘hundreds’ of federal agents to Chicago

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WASHINGTON — President Trump announced Wednesday that he will send federal agents into Chicago to help combat rising crime, expanding the administration’s intervention in local enforcement as he runs for reelection under a “law-and-order” mantle.

The Department of Justice will supplement state and local law enforcement agencies by sending more than 200 federal investigators from the FBI, DEA, and ATF to the city, in what’s being called “Operation Legend.”

The investigators will complement the work already underway by existing joint federal, state and local task forces focused on combating violent crime in Chicago.

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“In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defend, dismantle and dissolve our police department,” Trump said at a White House event, blaming the movement for “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence.”

“This bloodshed must end,” he said. “This bloodshed will end.”

The president said the DOJ will send “hundreds” of federal agents to Chicago effective immediately.

After the presidents remarks, Mayor Lori Lightfoot once again suggested she’s open to additional resources under the command of the U.S. Attorney, even though she says she’s suspicious of the the president’s motives.

“We don’t want federal troops. We don’t want unnamed secret federal agents roaming around the streets of Chicago,” she said. “If those agents are here to actually work in partnership is support of gun violence and violent cases plugging into existing infrastructure and federal agents not trying to play police, then that’s something different and may add value.”

While the president was speaking Wednesday, he referenced the recent slayings of a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy in the city.

Mayor Lightfoot said the rhetoric was a publicity stunt.

“‘Those poor families’ was a politic stunt,”Mayor Lightfoot said. “There’s no good will from this president.”

President Trump called the mayor Wednesday night to discuss the plan.

Lightfoot maintains that all resources will be investigatory in nature and be coordinated through the U.S. Attorney’s office, her press office said. Mayor Lightfoot said she has made clear that if there is any deviation from what has been announced, the city will pursue all available legal options to protect Chicagoans.

In trying to explain the spike in violence, experts point to the unprecedented moment the country is living through — a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, stay-at-home orders, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather. Compared with other years, crime is down overall.

Local authorities have also complained that deploying federal agents to their cities has only exacerbated tensions on the streets.

Hundreds of federal agents already have been sent to Kansas City, Missouri, to help quell a record rise in violence after the shooting death of a young boy there. Sending federal agents to help localities is not uncommon. Barr announced a similar surge effort in December for seven cities that had seen spiking violence.

Usually, the Justice Department sends agents under its own umbrella, like agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the Drug Enforcement Agency. But this surge effort will include at least 100 Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers working in the region who generally conduct drug trafficking and child exploitation investigations.

DHS officers have already been dispatched to Portland, Oregon, and other localities to protect federal property and monuments as Trump has lambasted efforts by protesters to knock down Confederate statutes.

But civil unrest in Portland only escalated after federal agents there were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable case.

The spike in crime has hit hard in some cities with resources already stretched thin from the pandemic. But local leaders initially rejected the move to send in federal forces.

On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot later said she and other local officials had spoken with federal authorities and come to an understanding.

“I’ve been very clear that we welcome actual partnership,” the Democratic mayor said Tuesday after speaking with federal officials. “But we do not welcome dictatorship. We do not welcome authoritarianism, and we do not welcome unconstitutional arrest and detainment of our residents. That is something I will not tolerate.”

The Justice Department will reimburse Chicago $3.5 million for local law enforcement’s work on the federal task force. Through a separate federal fund, Chicago received $9.3 million to hire 75 new officers.

In a joint statement, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth said they were set to meet with U.S Attorney John Lausch about the plan Wednesday and would continue “closely monitoring” the effort. 

“After needless threats from the President, we’re relieved the Trump Administration says they plan to work with local officials and authorities in Chicago rather than undermine local law enforcement and endanger our civil rights, as their agents have done in Portland,” the statement said.

The senators also point to a wide range of ways they say Trump could support in order to address violent crime in Chicago, including police reforms, job training programs, recidivism reduction programs and other efforts.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch said more than 100 agents with the FBI, DEA and ATF, will support gang and drug trafficking investigations, while more than 100 U.S. Marshals will “direct violent fugitive apprehension operations.”

According to the U.S. Attorney, Chicago is seeing a “significant increase” in violent crime, with homicides up 51% over 2019.   

“As part of Operation Legend, additional federal resources will assist our office and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to increase prosecutions of trigger-pullers, drug traffickers, carjackers, and those who illegally traffic, use, and possess firearms,” Lausch said.

Attorney General William Barr also said in the statement that the federal agents would work to support local efforts. 

“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,” Barr said.

In Kansas City, the top federal prosecutor said any agents involved in an operation to reduce violent crime in the area will be clearly identifiable when making arrests, unlike what has been seen in Portland.

“These agents won’t be patrolling the streets,” U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison said. “They won’t replace or usurp the authority of local officers.”

Operation Legend — named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was fatally shot while sleeping in a Kansas City apartment late last month — was announced on July 8. The first arrest came earlier this week.

Garrison has said that the additional 225 federal agents from the FBI, DEA, ATF and the U.S. Marshals Service join 400 agents already working and living in the Kansas City area.

The Trump administration is facing growing pushback in Portland. Multiple lawsuits have been filed questioning the federal government’s authority to use broad policing powers in cities. One suit filed Tuesday says federal agents are violating protesters’ 10th Amendment rights by engaging in police activities designated to local and state governments.

Oregon’s attorney general sued last week, asking a judge to block federal agents’ actions. The state argued that masked agents had arrested people on the streets without probable cause and far from the U.S. courthouse that’s become a target of vandalism.

Federal authorities, however, said state and local officials had been unwilling to work with them to stop the vandalism and violence against federal officers and the U.S. courthouse.

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