Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Mr. President. As the President has made clear, the most basic responsibility of government is to protect the safety of our citizens.
We are here to announce our initiative to combat rising violent crime in a number of our cities. Our goal is to help save lives. The principle danger to the lives of our inner city communities is violent crime. The leading cause of death for young black males is homicide. Each year approximately 7,500 black Americans are victims of homicide. Every one of these lives matter.
In 1992, violent crime rates were two times what they are today. It was at that time federal law enforcement made combating violent crime a priority and started to attack violent crime in conjunction with our state and local law enforcement partners.
We started using our strong federal laws that permit us to target those involved in gang activity and those who use guns to commit violent crime.
Our approach was to setup the Anti-Violent Crime Task Forces in the cities to enforce federal law and take the shooters and chronic violent criminals off the street. We helped pay for state and local police officers to join the Task Force – so we could leverage our strength. This approach was extremely successful in cutting crime by half.
Unfortunately, in recent months we have seen a significant increase in violent crime in a number of cities. This rise has been exacerbated by the recent movement to demonize police and de-fund police departments.
On one recent weekend in Chicago, more than 60 people were shot – 14 of them fatally. The murder rate in Chicago is up 48 percent over last year. In New York City, where the mayor has agreed to strip $1 billion from the police department, the murder rate is up 25 percent. Murder is up 42 percent in New Orleans. Albuquerque, New Mexico, had a record 82 homicides last year and is on pace to exceed that record this year. In Kansas City, there have already been 100 homicides this year, a 40 percent increase from the same time last year.
Our response to this increase in violent crime is to step up the activity of our Task Forces, in hard-hit cities by committing more federal agents and supporting more state and local Task Force Officers.
It is important to stress that the operations we are talking about are the standard anti-criminal activities we have carried out around the country for many decades. We will be adding federal agents to the Task Forces.
These are “street” agents and investigators who will be working to solve murders and take down violent gangs.
This is different than the operations and tactical teams we use to defend against riots and mob violence. We will continue to confront mob violence. But, the operations we are discussing today are very different – they are classic crime fighting.
We have named this operation – ratcheting up our anti-violent crime Task Forces in select cities – Operation Legend. We are rolling out Operation Legend initially in three cities – Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque. We will be adding cities in the weeks ahead.
The operation is named in honor of a four-year-old boy, LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept in Kansas City shortly before July Fourth weekend. We are honored to have LeGend’s family here with us in the audience today. They are joined by the family of Jacque Vigil, a 55-year-old grandmother and daycare worker from Albuquerque who was murdered in her driveway during an attempted carjacking. And today we also recognize the tragic murder of fourteen year old Vernado Jones, Jr. in Chicago, who was playing basketball in a park when he was senselessly killed by gunshots that wounded four and killed three others.
The FBI is today announcing rewards for information related to the killing of Legend, Jacque, and Vernado. We are seeking justice for those victims today, and Operation Legend aims to immediately help our police agencies and local leadership prevent additional victims. The FBI has established a hotline for the public to report any information they may have that may help in solving these murders. The hotline’s number is 1-800-CALL-FBI.
To carry out Operation Legend federal law enforcement agencies will be committing additional resources to these cities – including resources from the FBI, the DEA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the U.S. Marshals, and the Department of Homeland Security. To date, we have sent over 200 federal agents to Kansas City, we are directing a comparable to augment Chicago’s existing violent crime initiatives, and we are providing more than 35 agents to Albuquerque.
The United States Attorneys for Chicago, Albuquerque, and Kansas City are here today as well. These U.S. Attorneys are the chief federal law enforcement official in each of these cities and they are ultimately responsible for coordinating the federal effort and ensuring that prosecutions arising from this initiative are sound and effective.
Linked to this increase in federal law enforcement officers, we are also providing financial assistance to state and local law enforcement in these cities. For example, in Albuquerque we have made available over $1.5 million in funding for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department to hire five deputies. Sheriff Manny Gonzalez is here today and will be providing five Deputy Sheriffs as federal task force officers to help support these joint violent crime reduction efforts. Thank you, Sheriff.
We are also making available $3.5 million in federal funding to the city of Chicago in order to compensate local law enforcement for overtime, equipment, and other expenses incurred in support of federal task force operations. And in Kansas City, we have awarded the Kansas City Police Department, who is represented here today by Chief Richard Smith, over $3.6 million in COPS hiring grants to onboard a total of 18 police officers. As part of that award, Kansas City PD will be providing nine police officers to serve as federal task force officers focused exclusively on our federal partnership to reduce violent crime.
As I said, federal agents work hand-in-glove with state and local law enforcement every day across this country. We supplement and provide support to local law enforcement, but violent crime is ultimately a problem that will be solved by state and local leadership in these cities. Our announcement today is a demonstration of our commitment to the men and women who serve as police officers in Chicago, Albuquerque, and Kansas City. Your efforts to protect these communities are not forgotten. So too, this announcement, and Operation Legend as a whole, is also a commitment to the families of Legend Taliferro, Jacque Vigil, and Vernado Jones, Jr. that those names are not forgotten. We will not rest until justice is delivered for your loved ones.