WASHINGTON - U.S. Attorney General William Barr says a recently launched U.S. federal crime-fighting initiative championed by President Donald Trump has helped reduce violence in several major American cities, cutting in half the number of homicides in Chicago in recent weeks.
"Together, federal, local and state law enforcement in Chicago working as part of Operation Legend and joint task forces have reversed the dangerous spike in violence,” Barr said Wednesday during a press conference in the Midwestern U.S. city.
The Justice Department program, known as Operation Legend, was rolled out in in early July to help U.S. cities struggling with a surge in violent crime and gun violence after a decline during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the operation, more than 1,000 federal agents have been deployed in nine major cities to work alongside local and state law enforcement officers.
As he has campaigned for reelection, Trump has touted Operation Legend’s success in reducing crime in cities run by Democratic mayors, drawing criticism that both he and Barr are deploying law enforcement tools to advance the president’s electoral prospects against his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Barr has dismissed the charge.
In Chicago, Barr said the effect of Operation Legend has been most dramatically felt in the third most populous U.S. city, where the murder rate in late July, when the program was launched, was up 51% over the previous year. In addition to deploying more than 400 federal agents in the city, Barr said, the Justice Department has provided the Chicago Police Department with more than $12 million.
In all, Operation Legend has resulted in more than 2,500 arrests in nine cities, with federal charges brought against 600 defendants, according to Barr. In Chicago, more than 500 people have been arrested as part of the operation, with 124 facing federal charges, mostly for weapon and drug offenses.
“The results of these actions speak for themselves,” Barr said. “Over the first five weeks of Operation Legend, murders dropped by 50% over the previous five weeks. August ultimately saw a 45% decrease in murders compared to July and a 35% decrease compared to June.”
Despite the recent drop in murders, homicides remain about 50% higher than a year earlier, according to Chicago Police data. In the latest incident, an 8-year-old girl was shot and killed while riding in a car with family members over the Labor Day weekend.
Crime rates fluctuate because of a number of factors, according to criminologists, and Barr stressed that he was not attributing the drop in homicides entirely to Operation Legend.
Chicago touts own efforts
Nevertheless, Chicago officials, who declined to attend Barr’s press conference, have attributed the recent decrease in violence to their own crime-fighting strategy without acknowledging the role of Operation Legend.
“Seven weeks of the reorganization that I put in place under my tenure has resulted in a 50% reduction in murders and an 18% reduction in shootings,” Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said at a news conference Tuesday.
Noting Chicago officials’ refusal to acknowledge Operation Legend’s role, the U.S. attorney general said, “So that’s the way things roll here in Chicago.”
And asked Wednesday if he shared Trump’s view that the violence in Chicago was related to the Democratic leadership of the city and the state, Barr declined to weigh in.
“I’ve observed that the most important ingredients to maintaining safety and dealing with violent crime are a strong police force, a [district attorney] that is oriented toward taking violent offenders off the street, and the backing of the law enforcement community by the political leaders, both the mayor and the governor,” said Barr.
Operation Legend is named after a 4-year-old boy who was killed in Kansas City in June. Barr said the initiative has helped reduce violent crime in Kansas City as well as several other U.S. cities.
The program is unrelated to the deployment in June and July of federal agents in Portland, Oregon, where they were accused of using excessive force against demonstrators outside a federal courthouse and grabbing protesters off the streets.