July 30, 2020

U.S. Attorney says federal agents won’t be here in same capacity as in Portland

Andy Lyman

Albuquerque City Hall

The U.S. Attorney for New Mexico sent a letter to Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller providing assurances that the 35 agents that the federal government said would be sent to New Mexico would not be for the type of activities that have taken place in Portland, Oregon.

U.S. Attorney John Anderson sent the combative letter to Keller highlighting the city of Albuquerque’s high crime rate numerous times after the mayor, and other elected officials, expressed concern over the scope of the mission from the federal agents.

“Under Operation Legend, federal agents will be engaged in the type of crime fighting investigative activities in which federal agents are well-trained and in which they already engage on a daily basis,” Anderson, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote. “As Attorney General [William] Barr took pains to make clear at the White House, the federal agents will be conducting ‘classic crime fighting’ activities that federal agents have carried out around the country for decades, including in Albuquerque.”

Anderson said Operation Legend, the program in which the agents will be sent to Albuquerque, was separate from the federal role in Portland.

“Portland is not an Operation Legend City and Operation Legend was not conceived or announced in response to events in Portland,” Anderson wrote. 

Instead, Anderson wrote, Operation Legend is for cities with high violent crime rates and said that the most recent FBI statistics showed Albuquerque had a violent crime rate nearly four times the national average.

Keller responded in a statement on Wednesday.

“We asked the US Attorney to give us assurances in writing about Operation Legend, and we got them for our city. Specifically, the US attorney has provided a written guarantee that Operation Legend will not be what we saw in Portland,” Keller said. “However, we remain concerned about the President’s own words that contradict these assurances, and we will hold the appropriate people accountable if this is not true.”

Portland, Oregon has been the site of continued protests after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer. In recent weeks, federal agents have been deployed to protect against property damage at the city’s federal courthouse. The site has been the scene of hundreds or even thousands of protesting nightly, and federal police have responded to some seeking to tear down a fence around the courthouse by using less-than lethal weapons, including tear gas and pepper spray, in an attempt to disperse the crowds.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to a deal to remove the federal agents from Portland if Oregon State Police are able to protect the federal courthouse.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced it would expand Operation Legend to Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. 

The first city for Operation Legend was Kansas City, Missouri. Trump announced he would add Chicago to the program at the same time he announced Albuquerque’s inclusion.