President Trump announced Wednesday that he is expanding a federal law enforcement operation to combat rising violence in Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, saying “help is on its way” over the objections of local Democratic officials.
Building on the Justice Department’s Operation Legend in Kansas City, Missouri, the president ordered a surge of federal agents to the two locations to address violence.
He said a leftist movement to defund police departments has “led to a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence.”
Mr. Trump said he is sending “hundreds” of federal agents to Chicago after at least 414 people have been killed this year, a roughly 50% increase over last year.
“This rampage of violence shocks the conscience of our nation, and we will not stand by and watch it happen,” the president said. “The citizens of Chicago are citizens of America and have the same right as every other American to live in safety, dignity and peace. We have no choice but to get involved.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot changed her confrontational tone Wednesday and said she is willing to work “collaboratively” with federal forces. She earlier dismissed the president’s effort as an attempt to send “troops” to “terrorize” Chicago residents, and has said she might go to court to block them.
The mayor also told reporters late Wednesday that Mr. Trump is “trying to divert attention from his failed leadership on COVID-19.”
Mr. Trump responded, “She’s a Democrat, she’s making a big mistake. People are dying in Chicago and other cities, and we can solve the problem.”
The president said his administration will send law enforcement teams to other cities whether local Democratic officials request the help or not.
“They should call, they should want it. They’re too proud and they’re too political to do that,” he said.
Mr. Trump, who is making law and order a focal point of his reelection campaign, said liberal policies such as sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants are contributing to the violence. He is accusing Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden of supporting the movement to defund police.
“What cities are doing is absolute insanity,” Mr. Trump said. “Many of the same politicians who want to slash resources for law enforcement have also declared that their cities are sanctuaries for criminal illegal aliens. Last year, Chicago politicians forced the release of illegal aliens charged with crimes such as assault, armed robbery, strangulation and attempted murder. My administration will be working to remove dangerous offenders sprung loose by these deadly policies and, frankly, by these deadly politicians.”
He said his vision for America “could not be more different from the lawlessness being pushed by the extreme radical left.”
“While others want to defund, defame and abolish the police, I want to support and honor our great police,” the president said.
In the East Room, White House officials placed three “seeking more information” posters — one each for homicide victims LeGend Taliferro, 4, of Kansas City, killed by a stray bullet while sleeping in his home; Jacqueline Vigil of Albuquerque; and Vernado Jones Jr. of Chicago. Family members attended the event, including LeGend’s mother, Charron Powell, who thanked the president.
Ms. Powell said the operation named for her son “is not to harass, it’s not to harm or to hurt.”
“It is to help investigate unsolved murders, in which one of those happens to be our innocent 4-year-old son,” she said. “Children are supposed to be our future. Our 4-year-old son didn’t make it to kindergarten.”
Attorney General William P. Barr said the operations are “classic crime fighting,” drawing a distinction from the federal response to mob violence that has erupted in cities such as Portland, Oregon. He said the Justice Department is adding federal “street” agents from the FBI and other agencies to task forces involved in “the standard anti-criminal activities we have carried out around the country for many decades.”
“This is different than the operations and tactical teams we use to defend against riots and mob violence,” Mr. Barr said. “We will continue to confront mob violence. But the operations we are discussing today are very different.”
The attorney general said the rise in violence in cities “has been exacerbated by the recent movement to demonize police and defund police departments.”
He said about 7,500 Blacks are victims of homicide each year in the U.S.
“Our goal is to help save lives,” Mr. Barr said. “Every one of these lives matter.”
Mr. Barr said the homicide rate in Chicago is up 48% over last year and that Albuquerque is on a pace to exceed its record last year of 82 homicides.
“In New York City, where the mayor has agreed to strip $1 billion from the police department, the murder rate is up 25%,” Mr. Barr said. “Murder is up 42% in New Orleans. In Kansas City, there have already been 100 homicides this year, a 40% increase from the same time last year.”
The president is facing resistance from local government officials such as Ms. Lightfoot and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who don’t want the help and question Mr. Trump’s motives.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to take Mr. Trump to court if federal law enforcement is deployed in the city.
Chicago police were searching Wednesday for gunmen who wounded at least 15 people outside a funeral home Tuesday night.
The president said the surge of federal law enforcement is needed to ensure safe and secure communities where prosperity can rebound.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, called on Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales to resign for attending the White House event and supporting the president’s plan in Albuquerque.
“Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the sheriff is inviting the president’s storm troopers into Albuquerque,” Mr. Heinrich said. “If we can learn anything from Portland, it’s that we don’t need this kind of ‘help’ from the White House. The president is currently using federal law enforcement agents like a domestic paramilitary force. That’s precisely how fascism begins, and none of us should ever encourage or accept it.”
The sheriff fired back, saying Mr. Heinrich “couldn’t be more … out of touch with the local social problems and the great work being done by our deputies and the other first responders.”
“The citizens of Bernalillo County deserve to live in safety,” Mr. Gonzales said. “Many cities including Albuquerque continue to see levels of extraordinary violence. As the constitutionally elected sheriff, I seek to ensure that no citizen is excluded from the peace and security that should be enjoyed by all Americans.”
Operation Legend began after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, asked federal law enforcement to assist local police. But Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas joined the mayors of Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, the District of Columbia and Portland this week in a letter objecting to the deployment of federal agents “for political purposes,” citing the president’s “false and divisive rhetoric.”
“Kansas City will always be willing to work with any level of government interested in productive, cooperative, community-based action to make our city safer,” Mr. Lucas said. “What we made clear to the United States Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General … is we will never welcome the unilateral deployment of federal forces — particularly unidentified Homeland Security forces — meant to intimidate and detain peaceful protesters exercising their right to make their voices heard.”
Last weekend, protesters who marched in the city demanded a 50% cut to the Kansas City Police Department’s budget and called for the money to be spent instead on education, health care and other services.