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

Kristine Phillips
USA TODAY
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr in a 2019 photo.

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department plans to send nearly 100 federal agents and officers to Cleveland, as well as to Detroit and Milwaukee, 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 ongoing criminal investigations, according to the Justice Department.

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.

"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."

Democrats have also 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 will be sent to Chicago and more than 35 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 from the city who was shot and killed in his sleep in June.

This story will be updated.

Contributing: Kevin Johnson