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50 federal agents coming to St. Louis to combat violent crime

'Operation Legend' brings federal agents into cities to help local law enforcement

ST. LOUIS — The City of St. Louis will receive additional assistance from federal agents in an effort to combat violent crime.

According to the Department of Justice, Operation Legend is a “sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative in which federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight violent crime.”

The initiative is named in honor of 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept early in the morning of June 29 in Kansas City. Operation Legend first launch in Kansas City, Missouri on July 8. 

“He went to sleep and he never woke up. He was killed by a bullet at night,” U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen said.

U.S. Attorney Jensen was joined by St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, Judge Jimmie Edwards, Missouri Governor Mike Parson, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief John Hayden at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

Jensen said 50 Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officers will come to St. Louis and will be supplemented by the Missouri Highway Patrol.

“And we'll be adding more prosecutors from the Missouri attorney general's office into our office,” Jensen added.

Full press conference below

More than a dozen protesters gathered outside of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department while the press conference was happening. Some chanted, “take the feds with you.” 

Credit: KSDK

Jensen noted the case of a young mother and her toddler who were shot to death in the City of St. Louis in May 2019. Trina Riley and her 2-year-old son, Kayden, were killed in north St. Louis as she tried to protect him when shots were fired into their home.

The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward in the case of Trina and Kayden.

READ MORE: A mom and her toddler were shot to death as she tried to shield him; now family is desperate to know who did it and Kayden Johnson, 2

“We can't live in a world where people are afraid to sit on their front porch, where people are afraid to have their children play in the streets and they're afraid to have their children wait at the bus stop. They're afraid to be in their own house at 11:45 p.m. at night. We just can't have that,” Jensen said.

1 homicide, and nonfatal shooting every day during the last two months

Judge Jimmie Edwards said there has been at least one homicide and a nonfatal shooting every single day for the last two months.

In the City of St. Louis, there were 32 homicides in June and 53 homicides in July.

“In order for the police to prevent this type of criminal behavior, police must be more proactive and focus on the drivers of violence and those who have a history of violence,” Edwards said.

There are 20 people the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has identified as wanted suspects for homicides in the city and several dozen more who are wanted for other crimes, Edwards said.

“It is critically important that those suspects, as well as other violent law violators, be taken into custody as soon as possible. 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,” he said.

“The impact of the partnerships proved to be very helpful. In 2018 and 2019, homicides and gun offenses were reduced because of the current shortage of police officers employed by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to address the alarming number of homicides to date, I have once again requested assistance from our federal law enforcement partners to infuse support and to work with city officers to help investigate, arrest and deter homicides and other violent crimes in the city of St. Louis. The help received from the federal government comes in the form of Operation Legend.”

How does Operation Legend work?

Jensen said there will be 50 law enforcement officials who will be focused on active shooters and homicide cases. Officers will be in the most distressed neighborhoods and focus on gangs. They will also be assigned to responding to ShotSpotter incidents and other shots fired incidents.

“This is purely a violent crime effort, an effort to reduce the terrible murder rate we have seen lately,” Jensen said.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Assistance will make available $1 million to support local law enforcement in shot spotter responses and violent crime investigations in St. Louis. With Department of Justice funding, the city is also receiving two Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to support violent crime prosecutions.

“We’ve got a serious problem in this state with the homicide rate and we've got to deal with it,” Gov. Parson said. 

Parson said it’s going to take officials working together to go after the problem.

“Not one agency is going to be able to fix us. Well, that's the federal level, the state level, the counties or the cities. It's going to take all of us working together to really go after this problem. And it's going to take a real effort of hard work to go out here and take these violent criminals off the street. And I want to keep in mind, I'm talking about violent criminals. That's what we're talking about, this why this task force is here,” he said.

Gov. Parson said what happens in St. Louis is a huge factor for the entire state.  

“It is just not a St. Louis problem. This is a state problem. When these crime rates are going as high as they are, especially when it on homicide, it's exactly why we called a special session, try to do everything we can to give everybody the tools they need to fight violent criminals in there.”

Operation Legend was also expanded into Memphis on Thursday. It's also in Chicago, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. 

Statement from St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson

“Today, U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen announced the City of St. Louis will receive additional assistance from our federal law enforcement partners through the expansion of ‘Operation Legend’. This sustained initiative will collaborate and coordinate with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and state law enforcement agencies to address violent crime and apprehend dangerous offenders in the City.

As Mayor, my highest priority is protecting the health and safety of more than 300,000 people who deserve a community where they feel safe to live, work, and visit. I support this effort.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen an unprecedented surge in violent and deadly crime plaguing our City. During the months of June and July alone, our police officers responded to 85 homicides and numerous other non-fatal shootings. This continued violence is cutting lives short and devastating hundreds of victims, family members, and loved ones. We must hold the perpetrators of this crime accountable.

At a time when our police department is facing a serious shortage of approximately 140 officers, we need additional resources to help us investigate violent crimes, make arrests, and deter additional violent offenses across the City. 

Through ‘Operation Legend’, the U.S. Department of Justice will supplement state and local law enforcement agencies by sending more than 50 federal investigators to the City. Under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Jensen, these investigators will complement the work already underway by existing joint federal, state, and local task forces focused on combating violent gangs, gun crime, and drug trafficking organizations.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance will also make available $1 million to support the operation’s violent crime reduction efforts and shot spotter responses in the City. We’re also receiving two Special Assistant United States Attorneys from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to support violent crime prosecutions.

I am grateful for and appreciate the continued and expanded partnership with our federal law enforcement partners.”

Statement from St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner

“We welcome any partnership with the U.S. Attorney that will strengthen our efforts to make the City of St. Louis 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. Federal law enforcement working together to help the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department investigate and clear the most serious crimes in this community like homicides, which largely remain unsolved, would benefit all in our community.

I am, however, concerned about bringing more federal agents to the City of St. Louis given their recent behavior in Portland, Oregon, where officers stopped people without probable cause and interrupted peaceful protesters without warning. My office will hold law enforcement agencies accountable if they violate the rights of people who live in our community.”

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt statement

“Violent crime in St. Louis stands in the way of personal safety and opportunity,” said Blunt. “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. I will remain in touch with Governor Parson, Mayor Krewson, state and local law enforcement leadership, and U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen as the operation moves forward.”

Statement by Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D) Missouri

“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.”

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