LIBERTY, Mo. — A massive federal operation underway in Kansas City, Missouri, that targets violent crime has been largely welcomed by law enforcement 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 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was 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.
Federal officials have said the operation will not mirror 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 will investigate 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."
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he supports the operation as long as it adheres to those goals and does not expand federal agents' responsibilities in the city.
Lucas expressed frustration Wednesday with the language Trump and U.S. Attorney William Barr used while announcing an expansion of the program into other cities. Trump tied the violence in some Democratic-controlled U.S. cities to a recent effort to defund or dismantle police departments.
Lucas said no data supported Trump's arguments, which he said was aimed at heightening racial tension and dividing the country as part of the president's reelection campaign. Lucas said he wanted to find justice for gunshot victims.
"To get that justice, you don't have to actually claim that cities are failures and to get that justice you don't have to make our community part of a political ploy in an election year," Lucas said.
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.
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."
Lucas noted that Barr said Wednesday that 200 arrests have already been made in Kansas City, although the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City has announced only one — a gun violation not related to a homicide.
Lucas said he has no information about the 200 arrests. He said city officials and the public should get more information about what the program is actually doing.
The mayor stressed that he wants federal help to solve violent crimes, homicides and long-term criminal problems, but does not want the program's resources diverted to other crimes just to inflate arrest numbers and "add more people to jail."
The Kansas City 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.
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."