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US Attorney For New Mexico: Surge In Federal Agents Is About Reducing Violent Crime, Not Politics

Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Oregon. (Noah Berger/AP)
Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Oregon. (Noah Berger/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

This week, President Trump announced the expansion of a program called Operation LeGend that will send federal agents to U.S. cities with the stated mission of fighting violent crime.

The Department of Justice says this operation isn’t related to federal agents using force against protesters in Portland, Oregon, which is under investigation by multiple inspectors general. But Democrats see the deployment of federal agents in cities including Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, as an extension of the president's reelection campaign.

U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico John C. Anderson says his goal with Operation LeGend is to reduce violent crime rates and gun violence. To prevent what’s happening in Portland from arising in Albuquerque, he says his office will tailor operations toward these goals.

“I want to be very clear that the operation in Albuquerque is not going to be targeted at protesters,” he says. “It's not going to be targeted at limiting or infringing anybody's freedom of assembly or freedom of expression of any way.”

The motivation of his office to participate in the operation is Albuquerque’s high violent crime rates — not politics, he says.

“From my perspective, this effort is only reducing gun violence, saving lives and making Albuquerque a safer place to live,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On how the use of federal officers started

“Well, I think it started, as the attorney general mentioned in his remarks, the White House on Wednesday with Operation Relentless Pursuit, which was really announced late last year. The pandemic, as General Barr mentioned, did inhibit our ability to execute that as much as we would like. And it was really reconstituted here as Operation LeGend.”

On if there are written agreements on what federal agents can do

“I have represented in writing in particular to the district attorney as to what the law enforcement, the scope of the law enforcement operation is going to be. In other words, it's going to be aimed at violent crime and gun violence in particular. I can also tell you that we have existing memorandum of understanding with our state and local partners to discuss the goals of the joint task forces in which those law enforcement officers work together. So I believe there is certainly sufficient basis that I have explained what the law enforcement operation is going to focus on.”

On what he would say to Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, who said the use of federal agents is not real crime-fighting and stands in the way of actual police work

“Well, I don't want to put words in the mayor's mouth, but I think that in the past we have worked productively. And in the past he has expressed his appreciation for the existing partnerships between state and local law enforcement. So I'm not sure I'd say he clearly doesn't want it, but you have to ask him.

“I would disagree with him on that. I think when this begins, he'll see that it is real crime fighting. It's the same type of crime fighting we have been doing in Albuquerque for years now, working hand-in-hand with our state and local partners. When he talks about getting no details on it, you know, I have discussed the scope of the operation with him. And I believe that as it unfolds, he will see that it does address the scourge of violent crime in Albuquerque.”

On people who think Trump’s operation is about politics

“Well, listen, I can't speak to the motivations of anybody beyond my office in overseeing this operation. I can tell you that from the perspective of my office, we see staggeringly high rates of violent crime in Albuquerque. And I think that sentiment and that realization is shared by the vast majority of people who live here. So my goal and my only goal in this operation is to get that violent crime rate in check. We had the highest record number of homicides last year. We're on pace to exceed the number, a record number of shooting deaths this year. So you've got to talk to the White House if you want comment on politics.”

On what metrics will measure the success of the operation

“Well, I think there are a couple of metrics we can look at. I think one is simple, the number of violent instances we have in particular instances of gun violence. But I also think we can look at a more informal metric of how do people feel? I think when you talk to people in Albuquerque, you have too many people who feel concerned to go outside, especially at night. I think you have people who feel unsafe in areas of downtown. I think you have people who feel unsafe in their own homes. And part of the success here is going to be is that sentiment changed? Are people feeling more comfortable going out? Do people just simply feel more safe living in Albuquerque?”

Chris Bentley produced and edited this story for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on July 24, 2020.


Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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