Operation Legend, controversial crime fighting program, ends with Trump departure

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Controversial crime fighting program ends with Trump departure
Operation Legend, Donald Trump's controversial crime fighting program that targeted rising Chicago violence and crime in several other big cities, has ended.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It is the end of the road for a celebrated and debated federal law enforcement program that targeted rising violence in Chicago and several other big cities. Operation Legend is no more, six months after it began.

The Justice Department's program was quietly canceled. The I-Team confirmed Monday its termination came with none of the commotion that accompanied the onset of the crime fighting program in Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City and six other cities.

When Operation Legend began in Chicago in July, the feds were already under fire for deploying agents to deal with street violence.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was critical last summer of the Trump administration move, even before the federal officers arrived in Chicago aimed at gangs, guns and drugs.

The pet project of then-Attorney General William Barr was named after a 4-year-old boy who had been killed by a wayward bullet as he slept in his home in Kansas City, the city where the program began.

Once underway in Chicago, Barr said the murder rate here had been cut in half. City Hall disputed Barr's assertion, saying the drop in murder rate was not just due to the federal influx of 400 new and re-purposed agents.

Last month, when President Trump left office, so did Operation Legend.

"I say it was very successful across the country, there were approximately 6,000 subjects that were arrested, and we're talking about the repeat offenders," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Chicago's FBI office, Clifford Swindell. "Approximately 2600 firearms are off the streets and significant quantities of controlled substances, such as cocaine and heroin and fentanyl mixture."

"With the new administration, the page is turning. But the one thing that's not changing is that DEA and our partners are continuing to work to reduce violence and drug related violence in Chicago and other major cities in the Chicago field division," said Bob Bell, Special Agent in Charge of Chicago's DEA office.

The final Chicago figures for Operation Legend list 176 people charged, including 40 on drug counts and 130 for firearms-related violations.

"By the numbers I think it was successful, and that's a lot of the reason that we at the DEA and our federal law enforcement partners, along with the US Attorney's Office, will continue to work together and work purposefully to reduce violence," said Bell.

Some of the several hundred federal agents assigned last summer to fight violent crime in Chicago have now been returned to their home bases. Others have managed permanent reassignment here, so there has been a net increase of federal law enforcement resources. U.S. authorities said cases that started under Operation Legend will continue to result in new arrests and prosecutions in the coming months.

Full statement from the FBI:

Operation Legend was a coordinated effort with our local law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to aggressively investigate our most violent crimes. Despite the ongoing pandemic, over 6000 arrests were conducted at the local, state, and federal level nationwide, and over 2600 firearms seized. Though this operation was intended as a short-term surge of resources, our work does not stop here. Our mission to protect the American people is unending, and we will continue to build on this momentum going forward.