ALBUQUERQUE — U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John C. Anderson appeared alongside U.S. Attorney General William Barr at a press conference Wednesday about the status of the Operation Legend task force.
In a statement released in July by the Department of Justice, Barr said Operation Legend aimed to “combine federal and local resources to combat the disturbing uptick in violence by surging federal agents and other federal assets into cities.”
Barr praised the actions of the 40 Operation Legend federal agents in Albuquerque.
“Violent crime is solvable. It’s not something people have to live with at the levels they’re living with,” Barr said.
He cited that Albuquerque experiences three to four times the amount of violent crime compared to the national average and asserted that this was “unacceptable.”
According to a report published by the Albuquerque Police Department in September, from January through July there were 7,362 crimes against persons within the city limits, 33 of which were murders.
In addition to praising the federal response to the operation, Barr also spoke about the federal resources the city has received, including $10 million to help hire an additional 40 police officers. However, he followed up by saying that the city has yet to act on this aid.
“The political establishment is not providing the level of support it should to law enforcement,” Barr said.
The operation’s rollout came a little over a month after law enforcement officers forcefully removed protestors from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., in order to make room for President Donald Trump’s photo op in front of nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Operation Legend gained additional notoriety when videos surfaced of officers in Portland, Ore. grabbing protestors off the streets and dragging them into unmarked vehicles.
When it was announced that Operation Legend was expanding to Albuquerque, there was an immediate pushback from community leaders.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller took to Twitter to show his disapproval of this course of action.
“Operation Legend is not real crime fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of constitutional police work and makes us less safe.” Keller tweeted in July.
When the operation was initially rolled out, Barr said they were going to be partnering with local law enforcement.
The Daily Lobo spoke to APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos to ask about the relationship between these federal agents and APD.
“It’s hard to know at this point what the impact has been on the city of Albuquerque, because this is a federal operation,” Gallegos said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the federal partners are controlling the information and a lot of the details related to the operation and the success or lack of success.”
The charges have included distribution of controlled substances, possession with the intent to distribute and felon in possession of a firearm, as reported by the office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico.
Despite these claims, a source close to the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that federal agents have a history of “adopting” existing local cases that are near resolution and then taking credit for the arrests made.
Anderson acknowledged that the operation’s launch led many people to question if ulterior motives were at play.
“I understand that when we first rolled out Operation Legend in Albuquerque, it was certainly greeted with some degree of skepticism,” Anderson said.
However, he reiterated that he believed the efforts were useful and were making a difference.
“From the beginning, we have really articulated that Operation Legend in Albuquerque is about one thing — it’s about reducing serious crime and gun violence,” Anderson said.
“It’s been successful so far,” Anderson said. “The goal is a long-term reduction in crime: We’re not here for a band-aid type solution.”
Barr ended his statements on Wednesday by speaking about the future criminal justice reform he hopes to see in New Mexico, especially when it comes to the arrest and prosecution of repeat offenders.
Gino Gutierrez is the managing and sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GGutierrez_48