Kansas City Mayor Says He Learned On Twitter That Federal Officers Were In His City

Jul 23, 2020
Originally published on July 23, 2020 4:24 pm

Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, Mo., says he found out about President Trump's plan to send federal law enforcement officers to his city over social media.

"I learned about Operation Legend from actually someone on Twitter who had notified me that it was occurring," the Democratic mayor said in an interview Thursday. "Then I looked at a White House press briefing that had announced that it was, I guess, already in the works."

During a White House briefing on Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr said 200 federal agents were sent to Kansas City as part of the program — named after LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy killed last month in Kansas City. LeGend's death was the 95th homicide this year in the city.

"These are 'street' agents and investigators who will be working to solve murders and take down violent gangs," Barr said.

"I did not directly request the support," Lucas told NPR. "I would have liked to know more about what the operation looks like."

Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M., will also see federal deployments in the coming days as part of Trump's plan to fight violent crime in U.S. cities.

While Lucas said he welcomed federal cooperation in solving "some of the awful gun crimes" in the city, he said he did not want the operation to become a replay of the ongoing unrest in Portland, Ore., where federal agents have been clashing with protesters demonstrating over racial injustice and police brutality.

"We don't want some broader mission creep to other broad-based policing activities," Lucas said.

Lucas spoke with NPR's Morning Edition about the confusion surrounding the new operation and how it is — and is not — helping the city fight crime.


Interview Highlights

On what federal investigators have accomplished

I believe on Monday our local United States attorney's office, so the branch of the DOJ that's here, announced the first arrest of a suspect who was charged, I think, with a gun crime relating to drug possession. So that is, that's the one thing that thus far I know about. I look forward to knowing more about this over time.

On the need for federal assistance

The irony of it is that it was actually done by a suburban police department in a suburb. So I would imagine that a local law enforcement agency could, and I'm not saying that that person should perhaps still be on the streets, but it does seem like some of the concern in mission creep that we might be having.

What I have been told about this program was that this is the sort of thing that we're using to really solve violent crimes, murders, nonfatal shootings. And that's what we would be interested in. Other broad-based policing activities, we're not as much.

And to give you a little more background, I had my first personal conversation, I believe the U.S. attorney reached out to my staff before their announcement, but I had my first conversation after the White House press briefing a little while back where that was what was told to me would occur.

I hope that it sticks to that, and to the extent it doesn't, it would be regrettable, but I also fear the fact that this is a campaign season, election-type tactic, and I'm not sure that's for the better.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

OK, so that's the situation in Chicago. Let's focus now on what's been happening in Kansas City, Mo. And we're going to talk about this with the mayor of Kansas City, Quinton Lucas. Mr. Mayor, thanks for being here.

QUINTON LUCAS: Good morning. And good to be with you.

MARTIN: So it's my understanding, federal troops are already in your city. They were deployed a few weeks ago. Can you explain why and what their mandate is?

LUCAS: Well, there is some confusion actually. Yesterday, the attorney general reported that 200 arrests have been made in Kansas City since deployment of this program. I believe they backtracked a few hours later and reduced that number down to one. It is a program right now where, much like Mayor Lightfoot had noted, we, in Kansas City, certainly welcome cooperation in solving some of the awful gun crimes, particularly murders against young people in Kansas City. That's what the investigations are supposed to be. That's what the U.S. attorney has certified to me is occurring.

And what this is not supposed to be is the operation we've seen in Portland where they're yanking protesters off the streets, where we have law enforcement, federal law enforcement, that are supplanting our local agents. That said, given this administration's background, the involvement of Homeland Security and yesterday's announcement, we remain concerned and certainly vigilant on the fact that we don't want some broader mission creep to other broad-based policing activities.

MARTIN: So to be clear, did you request this support?

LUCAS: On this, I did not directly request the support. Usually the way that it works is that the - we would have a much longer conversation about the operation, what it all looks like. And in this situation, I believe that it was granted based upon conversations with the police department. I know the U.S. attorney's office does talk to my office. But I would've liked to know more about what the operation looks like.

MARTIN: Were you even given a heads-up that it was going to happen?

LUCAS: I learned about Operation Legend from actually someone on Twitter who had notified me that it was occurring. And then I looked at a White House press briefing that it announced that it was, I guess, already in the works.

MARTIN: So let's go back to what you said, that the attorney general claimed that these forces - or investigators rather - had made 200 arrests. You say that's not even close to being accurate. What have these so-called investigators done?

LUCAS: I believe on Monday, our local United States attorney's office - so the branch of the DOJ that's here - announced the first arrest of a suspect who was charged, I think, with a gun crime relating to drug possession. And so that is - that's the one thing that, thus far, I know about. I look forward to knowing more about this over time. But that's where we are at least in our position in Kansas City.

MARTIN: I mean, is that helpful? Is that one arrest something that your own police forces couldn't manage?

LUCAS: You know, the irony of it is that it was actually done by a suburban police department and so - and in a suburb. So I would imagine that local law enforcement agency could. And I'm not saying that that person should perhaps still be on the streets, but it does seem like some of the concern in mission creep that we might be having. What I have been told about this program was that this is the sort of thing that we're using to really solve violent crimes, murders, nonfatal shootings, and that's what we'd be interested in. Other broad-based policing activities, we're not as much.

And to give you a little more background, I had my first personal conversation. I believe the U.S. attorney reached out to my staff before their announcement. But I had my first conversation after the White House press briefing a little while back where that was what was told to me would occur. I hope that it sticks to that, and to the extent it doesn't, it would be regrettable. But I also fear the fact that this is a campaign season election-type tactic. And I'm not sure that's for the better.

MARTIN: According to data from your city's police department, there have been more than a hundred homicides in Kansas City already this year. The shooting death of LeGend Taliferro last month was the 95th homicide of the year. I mean, what is going on in your city?

LUCAS: You know, I noted a few times and particularly, given the cities that have been focused on, you know, none of them are cities, I think - and certainly mine doesn't - actually produce new firearms. We would love tons of federal assistance, particularly from the ATF, about tracking illegal firearms that are crossing state lines, looking to lock up and detect illegal gun distributors, folks that are providing lots of these firearms to gangs.

MARTIN: Yeah.

LUCAS: These are not your grandpa's guns that are being used in a lot of these shootings. These are actually often newer firearms that are flooding the streets of Kansas City, Chicago and so many American cities. So that's one thing that could help us because 95% of our homicides are gun related.

MARTIN: Although that isn't necessarily part of the mandate of these federal troops. We will continue the conversation - I'd like to very much - another time. Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas, thank you for your time.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.