A massive federal operation underway in Kansas City, Missouri, that targets violent crime has been largely welcomed by local and state officials, while some civil rights organizations are strongly opposed to having federal agents involved in solving local crimes.
LIBERTY — A massive federal operation underway in Kansas City, Missouri, that targets violent crime has been largely welcomed by local and state officials, while some civil rights organizations are strongly opposed to having federal agents involved in solving local crimes.
Under the federal effort — dubbed Operation LeGend after a 4-year-old boy fatally shot while sleeping in his bed in Kansas City — 225 federal agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined 400 agents already working and living in the Kansas City area.
The operation stands in contrast to one in Portland, Oregon, where the actions of federal officers outside the U.S. courthouse — hailed by President Donald Trump, but done without local consent — have resulted in clashes between protesters and camouflaged, unidentified agents.
The agents in Kansas City have not been guarding any courthouses, but investigating homicides, shootings and violent crime in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, officials say.
"Operation LeGend has no relationship whatsoever to protests, marches and demonstrations," said Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the western district of Missouri. "That is not their intent, that is not their function. There will be no Homeland Security agents as part of this operation. These are investigative law enforcement agencies."
Federal officials will not say when agents started arriving in Kansas City for Operation LeGend, but it was announced at a news conference in Washington on July 8. It has already resulted in gun charges against a Kansas City, Missouri, man.
Kansas City was chosen for the federal operation in part because of an increase in homicides and shootings in recent months, Ledford said. Local police statistics show the city has had 106 homicides as of Sunday, up from 79 at this time a year ago.
Before agents were sent to Kansas City, U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison contacted the governor's office. In a July 7, letter to Garrison, Republican Gov. Michael Parson wrote that such assistance with combating violent crime was "greatly welcomed."
The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department and the state attorney general's office both said they support the effort.
"We are all committed to lowering violent crime and bringing justice to the families of those victims of violent crime," said city police spokesman Jacob Becchina.
Mayor Quinton Lucas has supported the effort to reduce crime, though he was one of six mayors who signed a letter Monday to U.S. Congressional leaders denouncing the use of federal agents to quell protests and arrest people participating in demonstrations.
"Like many mayors, I will continue to work with federal investigators and our United States Attorney to help clear unsolved murders and other violent crimes," Lucas posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday. "What we don't need are federal troops operating as riot police supplanting law enforcement in our city."
During a news conference a week earlier, Lucas stood beside Garrison to support the effort.
"This operation is not tanks on the streets," the mayor said at that time. "This operation is not a substitute patrol force. This operation is not over-enforcement from federal law enforcement."
Several civil rights organizations in the area have criticized the operation, arguing that minority residents who already don't trust local officers will be even less likely to cooperate with federal agents.
Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said she doubts the federal officers will be used only to help solve crimes and reduced violence.
"Certainly we want these unsolved crimes addressed, we want safe communities, we just disagree on pathway to get there. Who doesn't want safe, livable communities?" she said.
"We want it stopped, but we don't believe this is the way to get it done. It's just going to create more violence, and our fear is a lot of that will be dealt with by law enforcement that we don't trust."
Hegeman reported from Belle Plaine, Kansas.