William Barr

500 ‘Operation Legend' Arrests in Chicago, Barr Says, Using Update to Slam Police Reform Protests

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More than 500 people have been arrested in Chicago under "Operation Legend" since July, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in the city on Wednesday, using the announcement in part to criticize nationwide advocacy efforts for police reform.

Federal agents, U.S. Marshals and other agencies involved in the effort intended to help state and local officials fight violent crime have made more than 500 arrests in Chicago since the operation was expanded to the city in late July, Barr said during a news conference Wednesday morning.

Many of those arrests, he said, were for violent crime like homicides, sexual assault and robbery.

Of those arrests, 124 defendants were facing federal charges, including 90 with firearms-related charges and 30 with drug trafficking-related charges, Barr said.

Those 500 arrests made in Chicago were part of more than 2,500 arrests made under "Operation Legend" in multiple cities since it began two months prior, Barr said. Of those arrests, roughly 600 people have been federally charged.

"Bringing federal charges is significant because defendants arrested for violent crimes are often detained before trial unlike state defendants who are too often released," Barr said Wednesday.

Barr said Chicago saw a 45% decrease in murders in August as compared to July and a 35% decrease since June - figures both Chicago Police Supt. David Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot touted separately, without crediting federal law enforcement, in news conferences the day before.

Barr noted that Brown and Lightfoot excluded federal efforts in their own discussions on the decrease in crime - adding that Chicago police had been invited to Wednesday's announcement but declined to attend, with Barr citing "politics" as the reason.

"They were certainly invited and could have attended," Barr said, when asked why members of CPD were not standing with federal law enforcement on Wednesday.

"I think you'll have to ask the mayor and police chief," Barr continued, noting that he planned to join Brown for a ride-along later Wednesday. "They were invited and did not come."

"I know that the city has put out information about the drop in crime and is crediting a number of factors. Absent among those factors is the federal contribution," he said, adding, "That's just the way things roll in Chicago."

"Politicians can do what they want to do," he added.

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch then appeared to walk Barr's comments back, stepping to the podium to say, "To be clear, there is no disconnect between the Chicago Police Department and federal law enforcement."

"We work together all the time, they're very supportive of all of our efforts and we're thrilled to help them fight violent crime," he added. "Law enforcement to law enforcement level, things are going very well."

Using Wednesday's announcement in part to criticize ongoing efforts pushing for racial justice and police reform, Barr blamed those protests in part for a spike in crime nationwide earlier this year and repeated a "law and order" refrain often employed by President Donald Trump as he campaigns for reelection.

"The increases in crime may be a number of factors involved but part of it is the emboldening of critical elements," Barr said, when asked about what may have contributed to the increase in violence.

Protests against police brutality erupted nationwide in late May after video was released showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for nearly 9 minutes, killing him. The push for racial justice has also taken place against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted minority communities, exacerbating racial inequalities in health care in Chicago and nationwide.

"With the incident with George Floyd and the attacks on the police and the demonization of police and discussion of defunding, we saw sharp increases [in violence] in cities like Chicago," Barr said, crediting "Operation Legend" with a drop in crime in recent weeks.

"Operation Legend is working. Crime is down and order is being restored in this great American city," Barr said.

Federal authorities said the operation in Chicago included 400 federal agents dedicated to the effort - 200 new to the city and 200 re-purposed from their previous positions.

It also included more than $9 million in grant money to the Chicago Police Department which allowed police to add 75 more positions, Barr said, as well as $3.5 million in "technical assistance to support the expanded anti-crime initiatives."

"Operation Legend" drew skepticism when it debuted around the same time activists in Portland said federal agents in unmarked vehicles were abducting protesters off the street without cause.

But when the effort's expansion in Chicago was announced, Lightfoot - a former federal prosecutor who has often tried to politically position herself against Trump - insisted that the additional agents and support were simply adding to existing infrastructure.

Lightfoot said the agents being sent to Chicago would not be used in the way they were in Portland, and that she has been “firm” in her stance against that type of show of force.

“If there was anything that happened like that, we would be making sure that we did everything possible to stop that in its tracks,” Lightfoot said at the time. “These are not troops. Troops are people who come from the military. That’s not what’s coming to Chicago, and I’ve drawn a very firm line against that.”

Despite the mayor’s assurances, many officials were skeptical about the program. More than 60 elected officials sent a letter to Lightfoot and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in July asking that federal agents not be allowed to use city police or county sheriff property, staff or resources during their stay in Chicago.

The operation was launched in Kansas City, Missouri, in early July and was expanded to Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Memphis and Indianapolis in the weeks following.

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