Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
I am pleased to be in Kansas City to provide an update on one of the Department of Justice’s most significant law-enforcement operations: Operation Legend.
We launched Operation Legend six weeks ago here in Kansas City. Three weeks ago we rolled it out in several additional cities, so now Operation Legend in underway in nine cities.
The operation is named for LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old boy shot and killed while asleep in bed. For us, LeGend is a symbol of the many hundreds of innocent lives that have been taken in the recent upsurge of crime in many of our cities this summer. His life mattered. His name should be remembered. And his senseless death, like that of other innocent victims during the recent surge of violent crime, should be unacceptable to all Americans.
Through Operation Legend, the federal government has dispatched to the nine cities more than 1,000 additional agents to work shoulder-to-shoulder with state and local law enforcement. Here in Kansas City, for example, we have deployed more than 185 additional agents from the FBI, DEA, ATF, and U.S. Marshals.
We saw one result of those efforts last week, when Kansas City police arrested the suspected murderer of LeGend Taliferro. The arrest was the product of hard work by the Kansas City Police Department, supported by critical assistance from the FBI and U.S. Marshals. This arrest will not bring LeGend back, but it again makes his case an example of how we can come together to take violent criminals off the street and make our communities more safe.
Legend’s mother, Charron, is here today. When I met her in Washington, I promised her that Legend’s death would not be in vain. He will inspire us to greater efforts to make Kansas City safe.
I am also here today with the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City, Tim Garrison, and U.S. Attorneys from many of the other Operation Legend cities – Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Memphis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Albuquerque. They are deeply committed to this operation, and we have some encouraging, early results to share.
To start, I want to provide a bit of context. The most basic duty of government is to protect the safety of our citizens. In 1991 – 1992, violent crime was at its peak. Crime rates had tripled over the previous decades.
At that time, the federal government dramatically increased its focus on combating violent crime. We launched a series of initiatives focused on drug organizations, gangs, and gun offenders. We also expanded our close collaboration and joint operations with our state and local partners. Over the next 25 years, violent crime was cut in half.
During the last two years of the Obama Administration, however, violent crime started increasing again. But this Administration has reversed that trend. Once again, working with our state and local partners, we pushed crime rates down in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Unfortunately, we have recently seen violent crime spike in many major cities, especially homicides and non-fatal shootings. There are likely a number of reasons for this increase, including pent-up aggression prompted by state and local quarantine orders, and efforts to demonize police and defund their work.
Operation Legend is the heart of the federal government’s response to this uptick in violent crime. Its mission is to save lives, solve crimes, and take violent offenders off our streets before they can claim more victims. Rather than demonizing or defunding police, we are supporting and strengthening our law enforcement partners at the state and local level.
So far, the federal-state task forces involved in Operation Legend have made almost 1500 arrests. Many of those arrests are for violent state crimes, including more than 90 homicides, like LeGend Taliferro’s. That’s more than 90 suspected killers who might still be on the streets without Operation Legend, and in many cities the operation is just getting started.
We make decisions whether those arrested are to be charged by the state or federally.
Of those arrested, we have charged more than 200 federal crimes. That includes more than 100 charges for federal gun crimes, 21 of which have come here in Kansas City. Bringing federal charges is significant, because defendants arrested for violent federal crimes can often be detained before trial – unlike state defendants who are too often released. And federal defendants will face serious sentences if convicted. Knowing that, many of them cooperate with the government and lead us to even more violent members of gangs or drug-trafficking networks. Criminals know that federal law enforcement means business, and we are putting them out of the business of violence in our cities.
In another significant development, federal agents in Operation Legend have seized hundreds of firearms from criminals – including 78 here in Kansas City – ensuring that those weapons cannot use them to harm innocent people. Relatedly, we are using sophisticated federal ballistics investigation technology to purse more than 500 leads to solve further gun crimes and take even more dangerous criminals off the streets.
Our work is just getting started. There is no more important mission for the Department of Justice than keeping our communities safe and enforcing the rule of law. Through Operation Legend, we will continue working with our state and local partners to do just that.