U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Tim Garrison, Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas, and Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith discussed the status of Operation LeGend at Kansas City Fire Department Station No. 18 in a joint press conference Monday.
Operation LeGend was named for four-year-old LeGend Taliferro who was killed in late June. The operation was implemented in response to an unprecedented level of gun violence and homicides in Kansas City.
Station 18, at Linwood and Indiana, is where one-year-old Tyron Payton was brought following a triple shooting in the 2900 block of East 33rd Street on Sept. 21. The fatal shooting made Payton Kansas City’s 148th homicide victim of the year.
In 2019, there were 153 homicides in Kansas City, which Garrison predicts will be surpassed in 2020 for a new record.
The operation brought approximately 200 federal agents from the DEA, ATF, Marshal Service and FBI to Kansas City, resulting in 518 arrests. The agents and local law enforcement also seized 176 firearms, large quantities of illegal drugs and several stolen vehicles during the operation.
Among those arrested since Operation LeGend launched, 126 are federal defendants in the Western District of Missouri, with additional federal cases referred to U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Kansas and Texas. Of those, 70 were charged with firearms-related offenses, 45 were charged with drug trafficking offenses and 11 were charged with other violent crimes.
The remaining arrests include 37 for homicide cases, including a suspect in the murder of Taliferro who is being charged in state court. Smith said 29 homicide cases were cleared during Operation LeGend, some of which are from previous years.
“They have since returned to their home districts after deployment of approximately 60 days, but Operation LeGend is not over, it’s simply entering into a new phase,” Garrison said Monday.
That new phase includes the FBI doubling the number of agents working violent crime cases and embedded agents with the KCPD violent crime unit. Additionally, the ATF has added a new unit that is permanently embedded with the assault squad. Garrison said intelligence has been gained and shared among law enforcement agencies to improve future investigations.
Garrison said the operation was successful in building trust in the community and keeping promises that were made to the people of Kansas City.
“I hope that by keeping the promises we made, by doing what we said we would do, we’ve established a level of trust and credibility that will continue to bear fruit,” Garrison said.
Garrison said federal agents worked alongside local law enforcement in a supportive role. He said Operation LeGend was executed as promised as a short-term, high-impact strategy to freeze the escalation of violent crime in response to the record number of homicides in Kansas City this year, adding that the operation has had a significant impact on violent crime in Kansas City.
“We’re going to continue to work together no matter political background, no matter the name of the operation, no matter what it is we are tasked with doing to make sure that young people have the opportunity to grow up in safety in Kansas City, to make sure we have a chance to celebrate their successes, not to look at all to many of the challenges we have each and every day,” Lucas said.
Despite what he called accusations of a federal occupation, Garrison said the agents worked cooperatively with both local law enforcement and local community leaders, and his promise that there would be “no storm troopers patrolling the streets of Kansas City” was kept. He noted that there have been many demonstrations in Kansas City throughout the operation with zero interference by federal agents, adding that there was no profiling or checkpoints conducted.
“Unless you were engaged in criminal misconduct or were in the vicinity of someone who was, you likely never saw any of the agents that were sent to Kansas City,” Garrison said.
Smith noted that during the 10-week period when Operation LeGend was in effect, July 8 through Sept. 16, homicides in Kansas City were down 18%, non-fatal shootings were down 23%, aggravated assaults decreased by 47%, armed robberies were down 5% and domestic violence decreased 17%, as compared to the 10 weeks preceding July 8.
“I think what is encouraging, and with the community’s support, we have crime trending in the right direction, in the downward trend rather than the upward trend,” Smith said, despite the initial unknowns.
Smith said he believes the joint operation was successful, and Kansas City was chosen because of KCPD’s good cooperation with federal agencies.
“I don’t consider a certain number of arrests or a number of guns seized to be the measure of success, our measure of success is lives saved,” Garrison said.
Garrison said he believes the operation in Kansas City created a model to follow for agencies in other cities where the operation has expanded.
The Kansas City metro has received over $1 million in grant funding from the Department of Justice to go toward personnel and equipment necessary to fight violent crime, Garrison said.
“I’ve also said, from the start of Operation LeGend, that law enforcement would not be the sole solution to violent crime,” Garrison added. “Violence is a community issue, and requires a community-wide response.”
Lucas said all Kansas Citians should see it as a priority to make sure residents of this city, particularly children, are safe, and should be outraged by the homicide rate. He asked that those with information about violent crimes should speak up and said the department can always use more tips.
“You can replace Rick Smith, Quinton Lucas and Tim Garrison tomorrow and we’ll still have this problem if we don’t have the community buy-in, if we don’t have all the support that we need to try to address these issues long-term,” Lucas said.
With city departments facing impending budget cuts due to loss of revenue as a result of COVID-19, Smith said taking away resources would have a huge affect on the department’s ability to respond to certain things. He said he thinks the pandemic had a hand in the surge of violent crime.
“I think what we saw here is what added resources can do when you bring 200 extra bodies, brains, thinkers, resources,” Smith said. “It’s not that we couldn’t handle the work, but look at how much faster the work happened and how much better the work happened overall because we had these resources.”
Lucas commended the KCPD and noted that each year he has been in office in Kansas City, he has voted to increase the police department’s budget, and he said there will be a lot of discussion on the budget with departments before the budget vote in February or March.
“I think we all recognize that drastic cuts, particularly quickly, aren’t necessarily the most prudent way to address the concerns at edge for Kansas City, and so we will work to make sure whatever we do is responsible,” Lucas said.