Crime and Justice

'Operation Legend' Nets Arrests, But

Questions of Efficacy and Motive Remain

Federal DOJ Initiative Expands to St. Louis, Memphis

By Steve Rensberry
RP News /Analysis

    EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. -- (RP News) 8/11/2020 - The U.S. Department of Justice, Western District of Missouri, melded public relations with hard news in a recent press release pertaining to “Operation Legend,” a federal law-enforcement initiative the release describes as “a federal partnership with local law enforcement to address the increase in homicides and violent crime in Kansas City, Mo., in 2020.” Reducing violent crime is everyone's goal, but apart from making 59 arrests -- a fraction of the total arrests most city departments make in one week -- the release declines, unfortunately, to detail the larger scope of the initiative or to provide any real hard data justifying federal intervention, not even a citation.
    Another DOJ announcement on July 29 did detail the expanding scope, but similarly glossed over its unilateral nature and the fact that some local authorities and residents have not particularly wanted the federal government's involvement, nor thought it was necessary. As far as we can determine, no governor or mayor in the country was actively seeking such federal law enforcement assistance prior to this initiative, though not all have objected. The July 29 announcement states that the operation has been expanded to include Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Other announcements have been released noting its expansion to Chicago and Albuquerque on July 22, and on Aug. 6 it was announced that Operation Legend would be expanded to St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn.
   Another thing the release did not address: the fact that some elected officials resented being told “after the fact,” as was the case with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who said he had only learned about it after receiving calls from reporters. “That's not how partnerships work,” he said. His reaction has been widely reported elsewhere.
    Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was not opposed to the operation as long as the effort was a genuine partnership, and as long as it was not going to be like Portland, with unnamed, secret federal agents.”
    How much is being done out of genuine necessity and how much is being done for political reasons or for some co-joining purpose?   
    Department of Homeland Security officials have said the federal government's response to the Portland protests is unrelated to the federal effort in other cities, with the focus primarily on stopping violence and crime that they maintain is out of control. In contrast, the stated reason for the federal effort in Portland was to protect federal buildings.
    As for the crime rate, provides a detailed analysis by Lori Robinson that shows, somewhat convincingly, that the president is simply wrong. Robinson quotes Richard Berk, professor of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania, as saying that FBI statistics show “crime generally has been going down [for] quite some time, and well before Trump took office. If you believe the national data, there has been a pretty long term decline.”
    Statista provides a useful report using FBI statistics for the years 1990-2018, and states: “The rate of reported violent crime has fallen since a high of 758.20 reported crimes in 1991 to a low of 361.6 reported violent crimes in 2014.” The rate in 2018 was marginally higher at 368.9 per 100,000.
    Noting the arrest of 59 more people in Kansas, the latest release states that seven arrests involved murder suspects, some involved stolen vehicles and illegal drugs, and a total of 17 firearms were seized. It also included photos and captions about a meeting U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison had with Pastor Darron Edwards of the United Believers Community Church, where they apparently discussed the federal initiative. “U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison met with a group of pastors this week to discuss Operation Legend, listen to their concerns, and respond to their questions,” one caption reads.
    The release marks a noticeable shift from most justice department announcements, which rarely, if ever, include photos or other extraneous appearances by officials connected with such operations.
   “Among the remaining 53 arrests in the past week, 35 were fugitives with either state or federal warrants for their arrest. The remaining 18 non-fugitive arrests were referred for prosecution in state court. Seven arrests were for homicides, for a total of 12 homicide arrests under Operation Legend. Other offenses cited in the arrests included assault (including non-fatal shootings), drug trafficking, illegally possessing firearms, robbery, bank robbery, child molestation, sexual assault, possessing stolen property and possessing stolen firearms,” it states.
    Operation Legend comes at a time when protesters around the country are calling for a reduction in police department funding, citing abusive and excessive practices. Some local leaders, however, such as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, said they welcomed the push and federal help in reducing violent crime.
    The Aug. 6 announcement about the expansion to Memphis and St. Louis repeats the same statement that Barr has made in other announcements: “The most basic responsibility of government is to protect the safety of our citizens.” It notes that Barr has directed agents with the ATF, FBI, DEA, and U.S. Marshals Service to “significantly increase resources into Memphis and St. Louis in the coming weeks.”