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Law & Order

St. Louis Region Gets More Federal Agents To Fight Violent Crime

With Mayor Lyda Krewson and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards looking on, U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen announces the expansion of Operation LeGend into St. Louis on August 6, 2020.
Rachel Lippmann
/
St. Louis Public Radio
With Mayor Lyda Krewson and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards looking on, U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen announces the expansion of Operation LeGend into St. Louis on Thursday.

Another 50 federal law enforcement agents are coming to St. Louis.

“Violent crime in St. Louis is intolerable lately,” U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen said in making the announcement Thursday. “The long-term solutions, we need to keep striving for those, but policing and law enforcement is also an important part of the solution.”

Jensen was joined by Mayor Lyda Krewson, Gov. Mike Parson and nearly a dozen other local, state and federal officials to announce the expansion of Operation LeGend to St. Louis. The surge of federal officers is named for LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old Kansas City boy who was asleep in his apartment when he was shot and killed in June.

The 50 agents from the Department of Homeland Security will not be protecting federal property or responding to protests as they have in some other cities. They’ll instead bolster existing federal task forces that focus on gang and drug conspiracies, and the arrests of violent fugitives. St. Louis and Memphis are the seventh and eighth cities to get this federal intervention.

“In each of the last two years, I solicited the help of several federal law enforcement agencies in order to assist the city of St. Louis Police Department with the apprehension and prosecution of similar types of offenders,” said Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards. “The impact of the partnerships proved to be very helpful. In 2018 and 2019, homicides and gun offenses were reduced."

There have been 158 homicides in St. Louis as of Wednesday, compared to 194 in all of 2019 and 186 the year before.

Jensen said his office will also start prosecuting cases earlier in an investigation.

“In normal times, you investigate these large cases starting typically with the lower-level people and then you flip upwards and work your way up through the conspiracy to get to the top people,” he said. “But the problem is if we wait, people are dying on the street.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Thursday that two more attorneys from his office would be sworn in as federal prosecutors to help Jensen with the larger caseload. It’s part of his Operation Safer Streets initiative, which launched in January 2019.

The presence of federal law enforcement in cities is controversial because of the often-violent response to anti-racism demonstrations in Portland, Oregon. In July, Krewson said that she did not need or want federal help with protests, but that she welcomed the assistance in fighting violent crime.

080620_RL_OperationLegend_02.jpg
Rachel Lippmann
A small group blocks the entrance to a parking garage at St. Louis police headquarters Thursday to protest the announcement that additional federal law enforcement will be coming to St. Louis.

“This crime that we’re having, it is really intolerable for the people who live here,” she said Thursday.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the police department headquarters, calling for Krewson to “resign and take the feds with you.”

In a written statement, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said she welcomed any federal partnership that would make the city safer and more just.

“This includes collaboration with my office to prosecute individual drivers of crime. In addition, we have identified violence interruption programs, trauma care, mental health services, job training, and education as places where additional resources would make a difference.”

Gardner added that she would not hesitate to hold federal law enforcement agents accountable “if they violate the rights of people who live in our community.”

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, took a similar position.

“While I welcome additional funding from the Department of Justice to help St. Louis fight violent crime, federal law enforcement officers must not infringe on the rights of non-violent citizens in my community as was seen repeatedly in Portland, Oregon. Excessive force will not make St. Louis safer. Changing the culture of policing and restoring the trust of the community with local law enforcement will,” he said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, praised the effort.

“Violent crime in St. Louis stands in the way of personal safety and opportunity,” he said. “Parents deserve a safe neighborhood to raise their children. Police officers should be able to do their jobs without fear for their safety. And businesses need an environment where they can create jobs around them. By expanding Operation LeGend to St. Louis, local law enforcement will have additional support to get more violent criminals off the streets.”

The deployment of federal agents is temporary, but there is no timeline for when it will end.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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