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Federal agents destined for Detroit as "Operation Legend" targets violent crime

U.S. Department of Justice

Federal law enforcement agents and other resources are headed to Detroit fight a surge in violent crime,U.S. government officials announced this week.

The plan, dubbed Operation Legend,is a Trump administration anti-crime initiative targeting several major cities.

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said Operation Legend is merely an extension of previously-announced local-federal partnershipsmeant to tackle violent crime. He said it has nothing to do with operations that have deployed federal agents to cities like Portland, Oregon, to quell ongoing protests.

“This has nothing to do with protesters or the freedom of speech or anything like that,” Schneider said. “These are not federal troops coming to Detroit to interfere with protesters. This has everything to do with stopping murders and shootings and violent crime in Detroit.

“This isn't Portland. This isn't Seattle. This is Detroit. We're not having those violent protests. What we are having is that the homicide rate is up 31% in the city of Detroit, and shootings are up 51%.”

Schneider said the additional help is welcomed by Detroit Police Chief James Craig, and federal agents will be used to “back up” Detroit police.

“We're here to fund the police. I mean, this is this is not a defund the police movement,” Schneider said. “This is to fund the police.”

Schneider does, however, connect the “defund the police” movement emanating from Black Lives Matter protests to surging crime, though he doesn’t directly blame protesters.

“I don't think it's a coincidence that [crime is spiking] at the same time we've had people publicly trashing the hardworking men and women who are police officers. I don't think that's a coincidence,” Schneider, a Trump appointee, said.

“I think people are standing in the way of police officers who are trying to do their jobs. And we have such low respect for the men and women who are literally putting their lives on the line to defend us and to protect us. And when you have the decline of people who respect or care or show any help or assistance for police officers, then it's easier to encourage the ability to violate the law.”

But Carl Taylor, a Michigan State University professor of sociology who’s studied in crime in communities for over 40 years, dismissed that assertion.

“To say that this is the result of from, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement and all this – all that is just a lot of rhetoric, propaganda,” Taylor said. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Taylor and other critics suggest Operation Legend is an election-year ploy to bolster Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric, rather than a sincere effort to deal with the causes of violent crime.

Taylor said that many Detroiters, including those concerned about crime and generally in favor of more police presence, are likely to see a federal “boots on the ground” approach as oppressive.

“They don’t see anything good about that,” Taylor said. “And then at the same time, they do understand that you have problems. No one’s denying that, and you would welcome federal help, or any help. But it’s the way they’re going about it.”

“They [communities] do need intervention, but not simply intervention that is coming from the police,” Taylor added. “It is social workers and public health and the whole nine yards. What you're looking at is areas that have been totally neglected and forgotten.”

Schneider says many details surrounding Operation Legend in Detroit have yet to be sorted out, including how many federal agents and agencies will be involved. He said he’s still actively working out those specifics with the White House, and expects to know more next week.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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