Federal and local authorities have arrested nearly 1,500 people as part of a joint violent crime fighting initiative launched last month in major U.S. cities grappling with a rise in homicides and shootings, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced Wednesday.
The arrests were made under Operation Legend, a coordinated initiative named for LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old shot and killed in late June as he slept at home in Kansas City.
The effort was launched in Kansas City on July 8 and has since been expanded to eight other cities. Taliferro’s suspected murderer was arrested last week.
“This arrest will not bring LeGend back, but it again makes his case an example of how we can come together to take violent criminals off the street and make our communities more safe,” Barr said at a press conference in Kansas City attended by Taliferro’s mother and law enforcement officials from around the country.
Operation Legend is unrelated to the more controversial deployment of federal law enforcement agents to Portland, Oregon. Officials say the agents were sent there to protect a federal courthouse from protesters whom the Trump administration had accused of attacking federal property and officers.
Under Operation Legend, the federal government has sent more than 1,000 federal agents to the nine cities to work with local law enforcement officials, Barr said. The agents come from the FBI, DEA, ATF and U.S. Marshals Service.
Of the nearly 1,500 arrested under Operation Legend, about 217 have been charged with federal crimes, according to the Justice Department. Chicago has seen the largest number of federal arrests, with 61 people charged with a variety of federal offenses ranging from firearms to drug crimes.
Operation Legend was launched by Barr amid a spike in gun violence and homicides in major American cities in recent months. The overall U.S. crime rate, however, remains well below its peak in the early 1990s.
Barr, who first served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, attributed the decades-long decline in crime to initiatives he launched then that focused on drug organizations, gangs, and gun offenders as well as increased collaboration between federal and local authorities.
During the final two years of the Obama administration, 2015 and 2016, Barr said, violent crime ticked up. But the Trump administration helped reverse the trend, Barr asserted.
Most criminologists believe the fluctuations in the crime rate have little to do with federal policies, noting the federal government’s limited law enforcement role in a country with an estimated 18,000 agencies.
Criminologists say several factors may be behind the recent spike in violent crime. Among them: warm summer weather; more people on the streets as states reopen their economies; and a growing erosion of public trust in law enforcement amid the continued protests over the May death of African American George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.