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Kansas Citians Have Mixed Responses To The Deployment Of Federal Agencies To Fight Crime

Rosilyn Temple of the anti-violence group Mothers in Charge speaks at a vigil for LeGend Taliaferro on July 1.
Noah Taborda
KCUR 89.3
Rosilyn Temple of the anti-violence group Mother in Charge speaks at a vigil July 1, 2020, for 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro.

The White House announced the federal operation to address violent crime Wednesday. Some community leaders say federal resources should go toward addressing the cause of violence instead of putting more agents on the ground.

Kansas City community leaders had mixed reactions to Wednesday’s announcement that more than 100 federal agents from the FBI, DEA and other federal agencies would be brought in to address homicides and violent crime in the city as part of Operation Legend.

While some leaders welcomed the additional resources at a time when the city has seen about 100 homicides this year, others want funding to focus on community investment and repairing the relationship between police officers and Black residents.

Operation Legend is named after LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old who was killed in late June while he was sleeping in his room at Citadel Apartments.

“They will clearly not be conducting ‘routine street patrol’ but be more involved with investigations and prosecution aspects of combating violent crime,” Kansas City Police Capt. David Jackson said in an email.

“We need help”

Shortly after the operation’s announcement, Councilwomen Melissa Robinson and Ryana Parks-Shaw gathered neighborhood association leaders along with the mayor and the Kansas City Police Department on a Zoom call to discuss the effort.

“What I really appreciated about our city officials is they immediately contacted us in the community so we would be aware of what was happening,” said Linda Brown, president of the Blue Hills Neighborhood Association. “In the past, so many things happen and we in the community don't even know it's happening. This time we got to know first hand and I feel good about that."

KC Mothers in Charge executive director Rosilyn Temple also welcomed the news of additional help from the federal government. She founded the Kansas City chapter of the organization, which offers support to family members dealing with the pain of losing a loved one. Her 26-year-old son was murdered in 2011 and the case remains unsolved.

“We need help. Let's do whatever we have to do to make our city more safe and more peaceful, to save children's lives,” Temple said. “We lost a 4-year-old baby and if we don't do something now we are going to lose many more.

Not everyone is convinced that additional federal agents will help reduce violent crime. Justice Horn organized many of the recent Black Lives Matter protests in Kansas City and is planning a protest in response to the federal initiative.

Horn said the high homicide rate is an indication that “Chief Rick Smith and the KCPD are unable to do their job.” Horn and groups like the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime and the Urban League of Greater Kansas City have called on the police chief to resign.

Horn said the federal government and the KCPD should talk with community leaders before announcing an operation, pointing to the fact that Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas found out about the surge in federal resources on Twitter.

“I personally think this is all politics in that,” Horn said. “That's all they care about because if they really cared, they would've talked to the community, talked to elected officials and even talked to the mayor of Kansas City.”

Both Horn and Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council Executive Director Karen Boyd said additional support should come in the form of funding for programs focused on social services, mental health and poverty. Boyd worried bringing in outside agents would just aggravate the crime problem.

“It's not going to solve anything,” Boyd said. “It's a smokescreen, quite frankly. When are we going to deal with root causes?”

Operation details

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri spokesman Don Ledford said the focus of Operation Legend will be on homicides and violent crime but declined to give specific details. Ledford said some logistics are still be figured out.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Wednesday, July 8.
Evan Vucci
Associated Press
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Wednesday, July 8.

Mayor Lucas said he spoke with the U.S. Attorney after the White House announcement.

“From what I know thus far, and usually what my office’s position is, is that any of these operations should be support type operations that are helping for investigation, not patrol coming in, not some sort of substitute force for the Kansas City Police Department,” Lucas said on KCUR’s Up To Date.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison said the Justice Department was in conversation with a number of offices including the mayor and the KCPD.

“These state and local offices welcomed additional federal resources. Although they may not have been aware of all the evolving details of the operation, they positively responded to our offer of support,” Garrison said. “That support not only includes federal agents, but my commitment to provide the legal horsepower to prosecute as many of these criminal cases as possible in federal court.”

Garrison said the operation is the result of “an unprecedented level of violent crime.”

The announcement comes less than a year after the U.S. Department of Justiceunveiled a plan called Operation Relentless Pursuit which also involved a surge in agents to address violent crime in Kansas City.

Kansas City Police Capt. David Jackson said the two efforts are "simply two independent collaborations with federal partners."

"They are both still early on and may develop as we go," Jackson said in an email.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday that while he didn’t know about the announcement ahead of time, there were ongoing conversations about federal assistance.

“We got to address violent crime in the state,” Parson said at a press conference. “And I’m going to do everything in my power as I can as governor, whether that’s a special session, whether that’s bringing in more laws that we can get passed, put more troops on the ground if I can do that.”

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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