WASHINGTON – The Justice Department plans to send nearly 100 federal agents and officers to Detroit, Cleveland, Ohio, and Milwaukee in an expansion of Operation Legend, a federal crime initiative that began earlier this month.
The department will send 42 agents 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 has said.
The announcement comes as state and local officials, drawing from the unrest in Portland, Oregon, are increasingly skeptical and apprehensive of a surge of federal law enforcement resources to their cities. Several big-city mayors have decried the aggressive use of federal forces in Portland and have expressed reservations about the deployments of agents to their cities.
Attorney General William Barr has defended the expansion of Operation Legend, saying it's targeting cities struggling with violent crime, and the deployments are different from the surge of officers in Portland, where federal agents have clashed with protesters.
"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."
In Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett said last week that "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. 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.
In Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan said he will support the deployment "so long as they are used in the continuing effort to enforce federal laws on illegal gun trafficking and gang violence."
"We believe there is no lawful basis for Homeland Security intervention in the Detroit protests today or for any increased presence of Homeland Security agents in our community. Today’s announcement appears to respect that position," Duggan tweeted Thursday.
The Justice Department said it will allot millions of federal funds to the cities. 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.
Democrats have questioned whether the expansion of Operation Legend is a legitimate use 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 reelection bid against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, announced a surge of more than 200 Operation Legend agents and officers to Chicago and 35 to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has given a stern warning that any abuse of authority by federal agents will face legal challenges.
In Albuquerque, officials feared the city would suffer the same fate as Portland. "If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state," Mayor Tim Keller 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 announcement comes on the same day Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the Trump administration has agreed to withdraw federal officers from the streets of Portland after weeks of violent clashes with demonstrators. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said local and state police will replace the federal officers in protecting the federal courthouse in downtown Portland.
The Trump administration sent Border Patrol and immigration enforcement agents from the Department of Homeland Security to Portland, drawing criticisms from constitutional and law enforcement experts who said such federal officers are not trained in urban policing and crowd control.
During his testimony Wednesday before a House panel, Barr said "a mob" has hijacked legitimate protests against police brutality in Portland. Officials said violent instigators have damage the courthouse 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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Contributing: Kevin Johnson of USA TODAY, Alison Dirr and Mary Spicuzza of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Justice Dept. sending federal agents to Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee