Are More Federal Agents Coming to Cleveland? The City Says It Has Not Been 'Made Aware'

Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse protesters this week at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore.
Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse protesters this week at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore. [Noah Berger / AP]

Updated: 5:47 p.m., Thursday, July 23, 2020

President Trump on Wednesday said his administration would "surge" federal law enforcement officials to help fight crime in Chicago, Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M. and other cities, as part of the Justice Department's controversial Operation Legend.

Trump accused local politicians in the cities not doing enough to address what he says are waves of crime as the public and some politicians call for the reduction of police department budgets.

"In recent weeks there's been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police departments," Trump said, claiming "extreme politicians have joined this anti-police crusade and relentlessly vilified our law enforcement heroes."

"To look at it from any standpoint their efforts to shut down policing in their own communities has led to a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence. This bloodshed must end. This bloodshed will end," the president added.

Citing a long series of crime statistics – including for New York City, Philadelphia and Minneapolis – Trump urged other cities to ask for federal help.

Cleveland says it not only didn't ask for help, it doesn't know anything about Operation Legend.

The city on Wednesday night posted a statement on its Twitter account: "The City of Cleveland has not been made aware of any additional federal law enforcement resources coming to the city. The Cleveland Division of Police has in the past and will continue to partner with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to combat violent crime in our neighborhoods."

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson scheduled a Friday morning press conference to address the issue.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Cleveland) criticized the federal government’s plan in a statement Thursday:

“The deployment of militarized agents to Cleveland and cities across the country is unconstitutional and reminds us of the actions of dictators and despots of old,” Fudge said. “It disregards the right of our cities and states to govern and protect their residents.” 

Cleveland Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones also criticized the plans, saying Cleveland residents already feel over-policed.

“The scenes from Portland, where heavily armed yet unknown forces are grabbing up citizens, does not inspire confidence,” Jones said. “While recent reports say the federal agents will be doing traditional crime fighting work, we will remain vigilant that they do not try to replicate their thuggish actions in Cleveland.”

Attorney General William Barr provided details during Trump’s announcement Wednesday.

"These are 'street' agents and investigators who will be working to solve murders and take down violent gangs," Barr said in prepared remarks, noting the personnel would come from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"This is different than the operations and tactical teams we use to defend against riots and mob violence," Barr said.

Cleveland already is part of a federal crime fighting initiative, Operation Relentless Pursuit, announced by Barr in December. Seven cities are sharing $71 million in federal law enforcement grants.

 U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman said in a press conference announcing Operation Relentless Pursuit in December, “If you’re wanted, this would be a good time to turn yourself in. If you’re committing violent crimes, this would be an excellent time to stop. And if either of those things don’t happen, you’re going to be found in 2020."

It's unclear whether Operation Legend would be an extension of Operation Relentless Pursuit or an entirely new initiative.

During his Thursday coronavirus update in Columbus, Gov. Mike DeWine said he has been in touch the mayor concerning the new federal agents in Cleveland.

DeWine said he supports the plans and echoed Barr’s assurances that the law enforcement assistance would be different from the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement in protests in Portland, Ore.

“The federal government, whether they be DEA agents, whether they be the FBI or any other department, works all the time with the state, works all the time with local officials," DeWine said. "That is very, very good and to my knowledge that is what this relationship is going to be in regard to Cleveland and the federal government."

Before the Operation Legend announcement Wednesday, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf insisted Tuesday that the administration would "not retreat" from protesters who have taken to the streets in anti-racism and police brutality demonstrations.

The presence of federal troops in camouflage uniforms with no insignia has been met with stiff criticism over the last week in Oregon, where agents have been accused of snatching peaceful protesters off the street, throwing them into unmarked vehicles and placing them under arrest.

Barr said 200 federal agents have been sent to Kansas City, Mo., along with $3.6 million in grants to help hire more police officers. A similar number of agents and grants will go to Chicago, he said. More than 35 agents will be go to Albuquerque, along with more than $1.5 million in grants, he said.

Crime victims were at the White House for the announcement, including family members of LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy killed last month in Kansas City.

ideastream’s Executive Editor Mike McIntyre and Crime Reporter Matthew Richmond contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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