Trump, Barr announce expansion of anti-crime surge to several US cities

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President Donald Trump speaks during an event on "Operation Legend: Combatting Violent Crime in American Cities," in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he will send federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to help combat rising crime, expanding the administration’s intervention into local enforcement as he runs for reelection under a “law-and-order” mantle.

Using the same alarmist language he has employed to describe illegal immigration, Trump painted Democrat-led cities as out of control and lashed out at the “radical left," which he blamed for rising violence in some cities, even though criminal justice experts say it defies easy explanation.

“In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police department,” Trump said at a White House event, blaming the movement for “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence."

“This bloodshed must end," he said. “This bloodshed will end.”

The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyperpoliticized moment when Trump is grasping for a new reelection strategy after the coronavirus upended the economy, dismantling what his campaign had seen as his ticket to a second term. With less than four months until Election Day, Trump has been warning that violence will worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November and Democrats have a chance to make the police reforms they have endorsed after the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests demanding racial justice.

Crime began surging in some cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia when stay-at-home orders lifted. Criminal justice experts seeking answers have pointed to the unprecedented moment: a pandemic that has killed over 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather. Compared with other years, crime in 2020 is down overall.

The plan Trump announced Wednesday expands an existing program that sent hundreds of federal agents to Kansas City, Missouri, after a 4-year-old boy’s shooting death to help quell a record rise in violence. Sending federal agents to help localities is not uncommon; Attorney General William Barr announced a similar surge effort in December for seven cities with spiking violence. But this effort will include at least 100 Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers who generally conduct drug trafficking and child exploitation investigations, in addition to personnel under the Justice Department umbrella.

DHS officers have already been dispatched to Portland, Oregon, and other localities to protect federal property and monuments as Trump has lambasted efforts by protesters to knock down Confederate statutes.