Barr, federal authorities tout Operation Legend
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal task force designed to help local law enforcement agencies reduce violent crime has already made more than 1,000 arrests in the cities where it has been deployed since it began in early July, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said.
Barr was in Kansas City Wednesday as part of a tour of three cities participating in Operation LeGend, which was named for a 4-year-old Kansas City boy who was shot and killed while he slept in his father’s apartment on June 29.
The task force has sent more than 1,000 agents from several federal law enforcement agencies to cities that have high crime rates, with the goal of working with local police and prosecutors to take violent criminals off the streets. It started in Kansas City in early July and has expanded to eight other cities, including St. Louis.
Barr said the operation has also allocated $78.5 million in grants and other funds to fund more police officers, more prosecutors in some cities and improving technology, particularly in firearms crimes.
Operation LeGend had resulted in about 1,500 arrests in those cities, including suspects in 90 homicides, Barr said.
Civil rights organizations in the Kansas City area have criticized the effort, contending the focus should be on the root causes of violent crime, with funds moved from law enforcement to social programs and education.
“(Operation Legend) is about occupying communities,” Ryan Sorrell, co-founder of Black Rainbow, a Black-led activist organization, said in an interview. “They are arresting people for non-violent crimes, and are racializing drugs. We see that they are not doing what they said would do and are harmful and destructive.”
Barr said the increase in violent crime in the last two years is due in part to efforts by activists to defund police in response to protests of racial inequality.
“Rather than demonizing and defunding our police, we are strengthening and supporting our law enforcement at the state and local level,” Barr said.
In the Kansas City area, the project has led to the arrest of 18 homicide suspects — with five of those arrests leading to charges — and the seizure of more than 70 firearms, said Timothy Garrison, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. He said the rate at which homicides are referred to prosecutors increased from 34% on June 1 to 45% on Wednesday.
“But this is not about numbers, this is about people, people like LeGend, who survived heart surgery as an infant only to get killed by a criminal,” Garrison said. “... Violent crime is terrifying. It destroys people, it destroys communities, and it has to stop.”
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said the city would not have solved some cases and had suspects in custody as quickly in recent cases without the help of federal agents provided by Operation LeGend.
U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, of the Eastern District of Missouri, said since Operation LeGend began in St. Louis on Aug, 6, it has resulted in 25 defendants being charged with federal crimes — 21 of those with drug trafficking offenses.
Kansas City police and federal agents involved in Operation LeGend arrested a suspect in LeGend’s death on Aug. 13. Ryson Ellis, 22, of Kansas City, has been charged with second-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of armed criminal action.
LeGend’s parents have been staunch supporters of Operation LeGend, and his mother, Charron Powell, said at the news conference Wednesday she appreciated law enforcement’s efforts to make an arrest. She urged community members to help law enforcement solve other murders.
“I have the beginnings of justice for my son but I want to make sure that I help everyone else out so they bring justice (for other victims) also,” she said.