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Detroit U.S. Attorney says "Operation Legend" all about fighting crime, not protests

U.S. Department of Justice

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider and other federal law enforcement officials say federal agents are coming to Detroit to help fight violent crime—not to harass or arrest protesters.

Schneider provided more details about the Trump Administration’s “Operation Legend” on Wednesday. It will bring more than 40 federal agents from various agencies to Detroit to help deal with a recent surge in crime. Those agencies include the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The announcement has sparked apprehension and outrage among some in Detroit, who believe Operation Legend might be a cover for federal forces to brutalize protesters as they have in Portland, Oregon. Protesters gathered outside Detroit ATF headquarters as federal officials detailed the plan on Wednesday, chanting that federal agents were not welcome in the city.

But Schneider insisted they’re wrong. He said Operation Legend is merely a continuation of local-federal crime-fighting partnerships that have existed for years.

There are no federal troops coming to Detroit or any other area in Michigan to interfere with protesters,” Schneider said. “Some people in our state have falsely and recklessly stated that the efforts of our partnership to protect our community from violence is instead a secret effort to stop the right of Michiganders to protest. These false statements destroy the trust between our community and law enforcement that we have worked for so many years to build.”

“There are people in the community who are saying, 'We don’t want federal agents in Detroit,'” Schneider added. “Federal agents have been in Detroit for decades.”

ATF Detroit Special Agent in Charge Jim Deir made the same point.

“To be clear, ATF and none of my federal partners here are going to be driving around the streets in unmarked cars, to somehow make contact or swoop up protesters and demonstrators,” Deir said. “It's not going to happen. I have no interest in it. It's not my mission.”

Deir and other agency leaders say this is instead about tamping down on violent crime, which has spiked in Detroit and some other major U.S. cities in recent months. In Detroit, homicides are up 31%, and non-fatal shootings up 53%, over 2019. That spike has been concentrated in certain neighborhoods, and officials say they’ll focus Operation Legend resources on four police precincts with the biggest increases.

Schneider said the federal agents will work closely with Detroit Police, and focus on fugitive apprehension, gun violence, gang violence, illegal firearms, and violent drug trafficking. The operation also comes with a $1 million grant to local law enforcement, and a $100,000 grant for acoustic gunshot detection technology called ShotSpotter.

Officials said Operation Legend is essentially a broadening of Operation Relentless Pursuit, which was launched in Detroit and six other cities earlier this year. Asked why more federal agents is the answer when crime rose during the tenure of Operation Relentless Pursuit, Schneider said that program was partly curtailed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Police Chief James Craig did not attend Wednesday’s press conference, but issued this statement:

“The Detroit Police Department has had a strong working relationship with U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider and the federal law enforcement agencies here in Detroit. Today’s announcement of additional staff for those departments was not initiated by the City of Detroit. So long as those staff are used in the continuing effort to enforce federal laws on illegal gun trafficking and gang violence, DPD will continue its strong partnership with those agencies. For the last two months, the Detroit Police Department has responded to the protests by relying on the support of the Detroit community, not by asking for intervention by the National Guard or Homeland Security. We believe there is no lawful basis for Homeland Security intervention in the Detroit protests today, or for any increased presence of Homeland Security agents in our community. Today’s announcement appears to respect that position. We have to address the unacceptable level of gun violence in Detroit through greater efforts by federal, state, county, DPD, and community partners all working together. We hope today’s announcement will prove to be an important step in that direction.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio 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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