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Federal agents and officers head to Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee as Operation Legend expands

NPS_ISB_patch (National Park Service/Released)

The Justice Department plans to send nearly 100 federal agents and officers to Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as part of Operation Legend, a federal crime initiative that began earlier this month and has since been expanded to several cities.

The department will send agents 42 to Detroit and more than 25 each to Cleveland and Milwaukee – cities that officials said have seen rising violent crime rates. The federal officers, drawn from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies, will help local and state officials in criminal investigations, the Justice Department said Thursday.

The announcement comes as state and local officials, drawing from the unrest in Portland, Ore., are increasingly skeptical and apprehensive of a surge of federal law enforcement resources to their cities. Attorney General William Barr has defended the expansion of Operation Legend, saying it’s targeting cities with problems with violent crime, and the deployments are different from the surge of officers in Portland, where protesters and federal agents have clashed as demonstrations over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer have stretched into several weeks.

“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.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has previously expressed reservations about deployments of agents to the city and, like other city officials, has warned that federal officers must have a clear and limited mandate.

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“Given the events that have taken place in Portland over the last few nights, I am extremely concerned that President Trump is looking for opportunities to create more political division in cities across the nation. Federal agents are not welcome here for that purpose,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said last week. “If the federal presence is to truly cooperate with local law enforcement, then it is imperative the limits of their activities are clearly delineated and monitored.”

Matthew Krueger, U.S. attorney for Wisconsin’s eastern district, said the federal officials coming to Milwaukee will focus on violent crime, illegal gun cases and slowing the city’s rising homicide rate — not responding to protests or civil unrest.

Democrats have questioned whether the expansion of Operation Legend is a legitimate deployment of law enforcement resources – against the wishes of local and state officials – or a stunt to help Trump’s reelection.

Last week, Barr and Trump, who’s struggling in his re-election bid against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, announced a surge of hundreds of Operation Legend agents and officers to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

About 300 federal law enforcement officers were expected to work with Chicago law enforcement officials, and more than 35 will be sent to Albuquerque, officials said last week.

The Justice Department announced Operation Legend earlier this month, beginning in Kansas City, Missouri. The project was named after LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy who was shot and killed in his sleep in June. The first arrest under Operation Legend was announced last week.

The Justice Department said it will allot millions of federal funds to the cities as part of the expansion. Detroit will receive $1.4 million for crime-fighting efforts and $2.4 million to hire 15 police officers.

Cleveland and Milwaukee will receive a larger share of the funding, with each getting about $10 million to hire police and parole officers and state troopers. Cleveland and Milwaukee will also receive $1 million and nearly $2 million, respectively, for crime-fighting efforts.

The announcement comes on the same day that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the Trump administration has agreed to withdraw federal officers from Portland after weeks of violent clashes with demonstrators. “They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence,” Brown said in a tweet Thursday.

During his testimony this week before a House panel, Barr said “a mob” has hijacked legitimate protests against police brutality. Officials said violent instigators have damage the federal courthouse in Portland and threatened and assaulted federal officers tasked with guarding the building.

In the past week alone, federal officials in Portland have arrested and charged at least 40 protesters. Many of those arrested are accused of assaulting officers and failing to comply with a lawful order.

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© 2020 USA Today