Cleveland Officials Seek To Calm Concerns About Operation Legend

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Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said Friday he's been in conversations with the federal government about Operation Legend and expects it to be focused on combating violent crime. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
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City of Cleveland officials sought on Friday to refute concerns that the federal government is sending federal agents to Cleveland to replicate the scenes in Portland, Ore., where agents from the Department of Homeland Security detained protestors using unmarked vans.

Officials called the conference to address news of Cleveland’s inclusion in Operation Legend, a federal law enforcement operation that sends agents from several federal agencies to cities to combat crime.

“There are no federal troops coming to the City of Cleveland,” said Police Chief Calvin Williams during a press conference with Mayor Frank Jackson and Director of Public Safety Karrie Howard. “We have not requested, nor has the federal government asked to send federal troops to the City of Cleveland.”

Cleveland officials said, based on conversations with the federal government, Operation Legend will work in much the same way an existing federal partnership, Operation Relentless Pursuit, already runs.

“So, they’ve renamed the initiative but what is actually happening is no different than what we’ve been doing in the past, in terms of working with our partners,” Jackson said.

In December, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the city’s participation in Operation Relentless Pursuit. Cleveland was one of seven cities chosen, along with Operation Legend participants Albuquerque N.M., Detroit, Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo.

In May, Cleveland Division of Police was awarded $8 million in federal funds to hire 30 officers who would replace the 30 veteran officers sent to work with federal agencies. Another $2 million was promised for the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the state parole authority.

According to Williams, federal agents are already working in Northeast Ohio under that initiative.

While Attorney General William Barr said July 22 that Operation Relentless Pursuit was canceled because of COVID-19, the dollar amount he announced to hire new officers under Operation Legend was the same as what ultimately was awarded for Operation Relentless Pursuit – $61 million – and most of the cities in the two programs are the same.

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman, who oversees federal law enforcement in the Cleveland area, also described Operation Legend as a typical federal partnership.

“In Cleveland, there has been a long history of collaborative partnerships between all levels of law enforcement to address many pressing issues in our community, from violent crime to opioid addiction,” Herdman said, who compared the partnership to past operations like We-R-Cle, Project Safe Neighborhoods and the Heroin-Opioid Task Force.

According to Herdman, more details about Operation Legend in Cleveland will be released soon.

Operation Legend started in Kansas City, Mo. after 4-year-old LeGend Tallifaro was shot and killed late last month. More than 200 federal officers from various agencies have been sent there and the first arrest and federal charges under the program were against a 20-year-old man caught driving a stolen car and carrying illegal firearms.

A press release from the White House announced Cleveland’s inclusion in Operation Legend. Cleveland officials said the day of the announcement the city was not aware of “any additional federal law enforcement resources” being sent to Cleveland or of its involvement in Operation Legend.

Jackson said the federal government’s lack of communication about the new initiative prior to the announcement was not a new issue.

“One of the major problems that we’re having, not only in terms of combatting violent crime but also in terms of combatting the pandemic is that there is no real coordination happening at the federal level,” Jackson said.

Jackson and Williams both said they don’t think any additional federal agents beyond what was promised under Operation Relentless Pursuit will be coming to Cleveland.

Williams said the federal investigators in Cleveland will make arrests on “anything and everything related to violent crime.”

“These are investigators,” Williams said. “They are not sent here to assist us in any way, shape or form with any First Amendment activity, any protest, any gathering, that’s not their mission."

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