‘Operation Legend’ to bring federal agents to Detroit: Here’s what that will look like

Federal agents coming to Detroit to address rise in gun, gang violence

FILE - This June 13, 2016 file photo shows Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Florida. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File) (Joe Burbank)

DETROIT – US officials on Wednesday provided additional details regarding “Operation Legend” -- which is bringing a number of federal agents to Detroit in the coming weeks.

The plan was originally announced by U.S. President Donald Trump last week as an effort to help “quell recent violence” in the city.

Officials said Wednesday that Detroit homicides have increased by 31 percent and shootings have increased by 53 within the last year.

US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider explained Wednesday that additional federal agents and resources are being provided to Detroit to assist with the increasing gun violence. A number of federal agencies like the ATF, FBI, DEA and US Marshals Service already have a presence in Detroit and have for decades, Schneider said.

Officials said Wednesday that beginning in July, Detroit will receive the following additional federal agents under Operation Legend:

  • 10 new/permanent ATF Special Agents
  • 1 new/permanent ATF Supervisory Special Agent
  • 4 new/permanent ATF Intelligence Specialists
  • 4 new/permanent ATF Industry Operations Investigators
  • 15 ATF Special Agents with temporary detail assignments
  • 10 ATF Special Agents reassigned internally to this initiative
  • 5 FBI Special Agents realigned from other FBI programs
  • 3 FBI Analysts from other FBI programs
  • 3 FBI Special Agents with temporary detail assignments
  • 1 FBI Intelligence Analyst with a temporary detail assignment

Under Operation Legend, approximately $1 million in additional federal grants will be provided to local law enforcement to address gang and gun violence. A $100,000 federal grant will support acoustic gunshot detection technology, also known as “ShotSpotter,” under the new initiative, officials said.

The federal agents are planning to work in partnership with the Detroit Police Department to specifically address fugitive apprehension; gun violence; gang violence; illegal firearm possession, use and trafficking; and violent drug trafficking, officials said.

“Operation Legend continues and expands what we have been doing for decades, which is sending federal agents and money to Detroit to fight gun and gang violence,” Schneider said. “Our children are being caught in the crossfire and murdered in senseless acts of gun violence, and I am very thankful that our community supports federal help to fight the current crime wave in Detroit.”

ATF Special Agent in Charge James Deir said Wednesday that gun violence will specifically be targeted in Detroit’s 2nd, 6th, 8th and 12th precincts, where gun violence has been especially high recently.

Officials said that Operation Legend is technically a part of, or phase of, Operation Relentless Pursuit -- an initiative that began in Detroit at the end of 2019 to address increasing violence.

Officials say that starting in Dec. 2019, Operation Relentless Pursuit has already provided:

  • 10 new U.S. Marshal Task Force Officers with temporary detail assignments
  • 7 new DEA personnel with temporary detail assignments (including five special agents, 1 special agent supervisor and one intelligence analyst)
  • $3.9 million in grants to Detroit and Wayne County to address gang and gun violence

Operation Relentless Pursuit shares the same goals with Operation Legend, but the former serves as a long-term initiative for Detroit while Operation Legend will act as a short-term initiative.

Officials said that more agents were supposed to be assigned to Detroit under Operation Relentless Pursuit, but plans got derailed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Now that states have started reopening -- though COVID-19 cases are rapidly increasing across the country -- Schneider says the federal agencies are able to resume plans under the initiative.

“The pandemic doesn’t stop our duty to protect the citizens of this community from violent crime,” Schneider said of Detroiters on Wednesday.

Officials also made it clear in Wednesday’s news conference that the federal agents coming to Detroit are in no way connected to the city’s protests over racism and police brutality -- which have largely been peaceful in recent months.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Police Chief James Craig have shown their support for an increase of federal agents meant to help the city address recent violence, while explicitly saying that the city doesn’t require assistance handling protests.

The pair released the following joint statement Wednesday regarding federal officials’ announcement:

“Today’s announcement of additional staff for those departments was not initiated by the City of Detroit. So long as those staff are used in the continuing effort to enforce federal laws on illegal gun trafficking and gang violence, DPD will continue its strong partnership with those agencies.

“For the last two months, the Detroit Police Department has responded to the protests by relying on the support of the Detroit community, not by asking for intervention by the National Guard or Homeland Security. We believe there is no lawful basis for Homeland Security intervention in the Detroit protests today, or for any increased presence of Homeland Security agents in our community. Today’s announcement appears to respect that position.

“We have to address the unacceptable level of gun violence in Detroit through greater efforts by federal, state, county, DPD, and community partners all working together. We hope today’s announcement will prove to be an important step in that direction.”

Other U.S. cities, such as Portland, Oregon, have had federal agents deployed to address protests, which has led to violence and tension between citizens and law enforcement.

The governor of Oregon did announce Wednesday that federal agents will begin leaving Portland.

A number of U.S. cities will also participate in Operation Legend, including Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland and Milwaukee.

READ MORE: Surge of federal agents leaves many questions unanswered

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.