President Donald Trump, who once bragged he could solve the crime problem in Chicago within a week, announced plans Wednesday to send a “surge of federal law enforcement” to the city to address ongoing violence.
Though agents also will be sent to Albuquerque, N.M., Trump singled out Chicago as the place in the most critical need of additional resources.
“Perhaps no citizens have suffered more from the menace of violent crime than the wonderful people of Chicago, a city I know very well,” Trump said.
Attorney General William Barr said more than 200 federal agents would be sent to Chicago, where they will engaged in “classic crime fighting” such as investigating murders, gangs, gun crime and drug trafficking organizations. The new agents will include members of the FBI, US Marshals Service, the DEA and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered a measured response to the announcement, expressing both cautious optimism about the additional resources and skepticism about Trump’s motives.
“If those agents are here to actually work in partnership and support of gun violence and violent cases, plugging into existing infrastructure of federal agents, not trying to play police in our streets, then that’s something different and that may add value but the proof is going to be in the pudding,” Lightfoot said. “It’s too soon to be able to say if this is a value add or not.”
Officials were quick to point out the difference between the Chicago surge and the situation in Portland, Oregon, where unidentified agents are arresting protesters for allegedly vandalizing federal building and taking them away in unmarked cars. The Chicago effort will focus more on helping local police deal with the increase in neighborhood violence, they said.
“In Chicago, we see an unprecedented rise in crime against fellow citizens,” said Chad Wolf, acting Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. “The DHS mission in Portland is to protect federal property and our law enforcement officers. In Chicago, the mission to protect the public from violent crime on the streets.”
Despite the reassurances, Lightfoot remained unwilling to accept the Trump Administration’s word that it would not launch a mission similar to the one in Oregon.
“Now that doesn’t mean he’s not going to try it here in Chicago and we have to remain vigilant,” she said. “I’m calling on all Chicagoans, if you see something that doesn’t look right, please don’t hesitate to report it. Call 911. Call 311.”
The announcement comes a day after a mass shooting outside a South Side funeral home during which 15 people were injured in what police described as an ongoing gang conflict. The city has experienced one of its most violent summers in recent memory with 414 homicides this year compared to 275 at the same time last year official CPD statistics show. It represents a 51% increase.
Among the homicide victims discussed by Trump at the news conference was 14-year-old Vernado Jones Jr., who was one of four people killed in a shooting in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on July 4. The FBI has offered a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of the people involved in his killing.
Jones’ mother attended Trump’s announcement in the East Room of the White House, but she did not speak alongside the other victims’ families.
“Please know that all Americans mourn by your side. we will carry your son’s memory. he will not be forgotten,” Trump told her.
Known as Operation Legend in honor of a slain 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro of Kansas City, the Chicago mission will be overseen by John Lausch Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Lightfoot repeatedly has made clear that most of her reassurance about Trump’s plan stems from Lausch, her friend and former colleague, being in charge at the local level.
The U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Task Force, which included more than 100 agents, will direct violent fugitive apprehension operations within Chicago to identify wanted gang members, violent criminals and firearms violators. The Department of Homeland Security is also committing at least 100 agents, already stationed in Chicago, to investigate narcotics and firearm traffickers.
The federal government also will earmark $3.5 million to reimburse the Chicago Police Department and City of Chicago for the work of local law enforcement on the effort.
“A top priority as federal prosecutors is to reduce violent crime, particularly in a large urban area like Chicago,” Lausch said in a statement. “We will use these new resources and every other available federal law enforcement tool to reduce the unacceptable level of violent crime in Chicago.”
Trump blamed the violence in Chicago on local leaders, whom he wrongly accused of wanting to abolish and defund police departments. No Chicago mayor in the past 30 years has ever made such a proposal.
“For decades, politicians running many of our major cities have put the interests of criminals above the rights of abiding citizens,” Trump said. “These same politicians have embraced the far-left movement to break up our police departments, causing violent crime to spiral — and I mean, spiral— seriously out of control.”
Lightfoot shrugged off Trump’s criticism, calling his announcement along side victims’ families “a political stunt.”
Trump’s plans to send additional federal agents to Chicago this week set off alarm bells at City Hall and in activist circles, as the scope of their duties was not made public. Trump had said he would be sending the additional agents to combat violence here and in other cities, but also referenced extra agents in Portland as doing “a fantastic job.”
On Monday, the Tribune reported that the Department of Homeland Security was crafting plans to deploy about 150 federal agents to the city this week. A source with knowledge of the situation said by Tuesday, officials had been told half that number would come from Homeland Security Investigations, a section of DHS, and the rest coming from other federal agencies, such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.
Absent any details from the president earlier this week about how these resources would be used, Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed concern the federal agents would be used unlawfully against protesters. She pointed to their presence in Portland, where protesters were allegedly being snatched off the streets by agents, drawing condemnation from state officials there and leading to a lawsuit filed against DHS and other federal law enforcement by Oregon’s attorney general.
Lightfoot initially threatened to sue if President Donald Trump tried to send federal agents into Chicago without her permission.
She changed her tone after talking with Lausch, a former colleague who she has said she respects and admires, who assured her an influx of law enforcement would be working “collaboratively” with Chicago cops against violent crime, and not confronting protesters.
But Lightfoot said the city would proceed with caution and would not welcome “troops” from the Trump administration to the city’s streets.
Chicago police and other big-city departments across the country regularly work with federal agencies such as the FBI, DEA, ATF and the U.S. attorney’s office on investigations into drug- and gun-trafficking and myriad other crimes tied to violence. In Chicago, such investigations are often based in certain neighborhoods on the South and West sides where much of the violence in the city occurs. One incentive for the partnership is the potential for a lengthier prison sentence for people tried and convicted in the federal system as opposed to being prosecuted in state court.
Such partnerships over the years have been through federal programs such as Project Exile, aimed at shifting more gun prosecutions to federal judges so they can hand down stiffer penalties on convicts, and Project Safe Neighborhoods, designed to better coordinate federal resources and local intelligence on crime.
For Lightfoot, the prospect of increased federal assistance for anti-crime efforts is a thorny proposition. More federal agents could help with the city’s skyrocketing violence, but the unfolding controversy in Portland and Trump’s repeated harsh rhetoric toward Chicago has led to high public mistrust in the federal government, which she’s acknowledged.
“I don’t put anything past this administration, which is why we will continue to be diligent and why we will continue to be ready,” Lightfoot said. “If we need to stop them and use the courts to do so, we are ready to do that.”
The announcement about federal agents coming to Chicago is the latest development in an ongoing war of words between the Republican president and Democratic mayor.
In recent weeks, Lightfoot repeatedly has questioned the sincerity of Trump’s offer to help Chicago and denounced his response to George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer.
Last month, Trump lashed out at Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker over Chicago’s gun violence, saying the two had put their “own political interests” ahead of the lives of residents and insisting that “law and order” was needed.