KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal anti-crime program launched in Kansas City, Missouri, after the deadly shooting of a 4-year-old boy has resulted in nearly 1,500 arrests across the country during the past six weeks, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday.
Barr, speaking at a news conference in Kansas City, said Operation LeGend has netted 1,485 arrests in the nine U.S. cities where it has been utilized, including 90 homicide suspect arrests across the country.
"That's more than 90 suspected killers who might still be on the streets without Operation LeGend," Barr said, "and in many cities ... the operation is just getting started."
Barr, the nation's top law enforcement official, said one of the biggest issues plaguing many cities seeing an increase in violent crime is "revolving-door justice," where suspects are not being held before trial or are receiving reduced sentences for their crimes.
He said that one advantage of charging suspects through the federal courts is that the system does a better job of keeping offenders in custody pending disposition of their case, which he called "critical for community policing."
"The system falls apart in the prosecution and trial and sentencing stage ...," Barr said. "I think if you go to most of these big cities that are experiencing an increase in violent crime ... (the police departments) will know who the shooters are, and there aren't that many of them, relatively speaking."
He said more than 200 suspects arrested through Operation LeGend have been charged with federal crimes, including more than 100 charges for federal gun crimes.
The operation also has led to the seizure of "hundreds and hundreds" of high-powered firearms in the nine cities, Barr said, including 78 firearms seized in Kansas City.
Barr was joined in Kansas City by David Bowdich, deputy director of the FBI, the U.S. attorneys general representing the cities where Operation LeGend has expanded, KCPD Chief of Police Rick Smith and Charron Powell, the mother of Operation LeGend's namesake, LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept in his family's apartment in late June.
A 22-year-old man was charged with murder in LeGend’s death last week, one of 18 homicide-related arrests made as part of Operation LeGend in Kansas City, according to federal officials.
While the operation has received support from Powell and several other crime victims, others have criticized the initiative as federal overreach.
Barr said the timing of the operation’s launch, which happened while federal agents were clashing with protesters in Portland, led to some “misinformed comments” about the initiative.
He said Operation LeGend does not focus on civil unrest or rioting but rather on the “classic, traditional” law enforcement work of “finding criminal suspects and prosecuting them.”
“Working on violent crime and working with state and local government, that’s what the Department of Justice does, and we’ve done it a long time,” Barr said. “This is ratcheting it up and targeting the shooters in selected cities where there’s a high homicide or non-fatal shooting rate.”
Smith said the increased federal presence in Kansas City is “absolutely making a difference,” particularly with respect to the amount of time it takes law enforcement to solve violent crimes.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Tim Garrison said the clearance rate in Kansas City, which measures the rate of crimes considered solved and referred to a prosecutor, has increased from 34% on June 1 to 45% as of Wednesday morning.
"There is much to be done, but, to use the parlance of our day, we are flattening the curve," Garrison said.
Operation LeGend, a partnership between the federal government and local law enforcement, focuses on finding and arresting homicide suspects and other violent offenders in cities that have seen surges in violent crime this year.
After launching in Kansas City, it expanded two weeks later to Chicago and Albuquerque and since has been expanded to Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Memphis, St. Louis and Indianapolis.
More than 200 federal agents were assigned to the initiative in Kansas City from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
So far, the increased presence has resulted in 43 defendants charged with federal crimes, including 20 charged with felon in possession of a firearm and 17 charged with drug trafficking. There have been 17 people arrested and charged with homicide at the state level, according to the Department of Justice.
For jurisdictions that utilize the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline, anonymous tips can be made by calling 816-474-TIPS (8477), submitting the tip online or through the free mobile app at P3Tips.com.
Annual homicide details and data for the Kansas City area are available through the 41 Action News Homicide Tracker, which was launched in 2015.