Trump deploys more federal agents under ‘law-and-order’ push

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he will send federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to help combat rising crime, expanding the administration’s intervention into local enforcement as he runs for reelection under a “law-and-order” mantle.

Using the same alarmist language he has employed to describe illegal immigration, Trump painted Democrat-led cities as out of control and lashed out at the “radical left,” which he blamed for rising violence in some cities, even though criminal justice experts say it defies easy explanation.

“In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police department,” Trump said at a White House event, blaming the movement for “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence.”

“This bloodshed must end,” he said. “This bloodshed will end.”

The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyperpoliticized moment when Trump is grasping for a new reelection strategy after the coronavirus upended the economy, dismantling what his campaign had seen as his ticket to a second term. With less than four months until Election Day, Trump has been warning that violence will worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November and Democrats have a chance to make the police reforms they have endorsed after the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests demanding racial justice.

Crime began surging in some cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia when stay-at-home orders lifted. Criminal justice experts seeking answers have pointed to the unprecedented moment: a pandemic that has killed over 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather. Compared with other years, crime in 2020 is down overall.

The plan Trump announced Wednesday expands an existing program that sent hundreds of federal agents to Kansas City, Missouri, after a 4-year-old boy’s shooting death to help quell a record rise in violence. Sending federal agents to help localities is not uncommon; Attorney General William Barr announced a similar surge effort in December for seven cities with spiking violence. But this effort will include at least 100 Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers who generally conduct drug trafficking and child exploitation investigations, in addition to personnel under the DOJ umbrella.

DHS officers have already been dispatched to Portland, Oregon, and other localities to protect federal property and monuments as Trump has lambasted efforts by protesters to knock down Confederate statutes.

Local authorities there have complained that agents have exacerbated tensions on the streets, while residents have accused the government of violating their constitutional rights. Indeed, civil unrest escalated after federal agents were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable cause.

Since the racial justice protests began, Trump’s campaign has leaned heavily into a pledge to maintain “law and order.” The president has tried to tie Biden to a small group of radicals and anarchists that Trump’s campaign claims is trying to destabilize America’s cities and rewrite history.

The campaign believes the push can help Trump by drumming up support from suburban and older voters who may be rattled by violent images broadcast by conservative media outlets.

The spike in crime has hit some cities hard at a time when their resources were already stretched thin from the pandemic. But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially rejected the move to send in federal forces. but later said she and other local officials had spoken with federal authorities and come to an understanding. Chicago has seen 414 homicides this year, compared with 275 during the same period in 2019.

“I’ve been very clear that we welcome actual partnership,” the Democratic mayor said Tuesday. “But we do not welcome dictatorship. We do not welcome authoritarianism, and we do not welcome unconstitutional arrest and detainment of our residents.”

In New Mexico, meanwhile, Democratic elected officials were cautioning Trump against sending in federal agents, with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich calling on Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who attended the White House event Wednesday, to resign.

“Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque,” Heinrich said in a statement.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf drew a distinction between the mission in Portland — to protect federal property — and the surges in Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque to help stop violence.

Albuquerque and Chicago will be getting millions of dollars for new officers, and the Justice Department will reimburse Chicago $3.5 million for local law enforcement’s work on the federal task force.

In Kansas City, the top federal prosecutor said any agents involved in an operation to reduce violent crime in the area will be clearly identifiable when making arrests, unlike what has been seen in Portland. Hundreds of extra agents have been sent.

“These agents won’t be patrolling the streets,” U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison said. “They won’t replace or usurp the authority of local officers.”

Operation Legend — named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was fatally shot while sleeping in a Kansas City apartment last month — was announced July 8. There have been more than 200 arrests.

“My one and only child who fought through open heart surgery at four months is gone due to senseless gun violence,” LeGend’s mother, Charon Powell, said at the White House. “Children are supposed to be our future and our son didn’t make it to kindergarten.”