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Attorney General William Barr testifies on July 28 in Washington, D.C. -Photo: Chip Somodevilla/PoolAFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department plans to divide nearly 100 federal agents between Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee in an expansion of "Operation Legend," launched last month to fight a "surge of violent crime" in U.S. cities, the agency announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: Democrats have accused President Trump of cracking down on Democratic-run cities as part of a "law and order" message he is stressing as core to his re-election campaign. Attorney General Bill Barr insisted at a hearing on Tuesday that the decisions to surge federal agents to certain cities are "based on neutral criteria."

The big picture: Six Democratic mayors on Tuesday urged congressional leaders to make it illegal for the federal government to deploy militarized federal agents to cities that reject federal involvement, following widespread backlash from federal agents deployed to Portland protests.

  • Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee are run by Democratic mayors. President Trump has threatened to send federal law enforcement into other cities run by Democrats after deploying forces into Portland.
  • However, Operation Legend is distinct from the Department of Homeland Security's presence in Portland, which was established under an executive order seeking to protect monuments and federal property from protesters.

Details: The expansion would send the most forces into Detroit, with 42 new agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

  • The agency is allocating roughly $26.9 million for the new expansion, with the most money set aside for hiring officers in Cleveland and Milwaukee and nearby cities.
  • The DOJ is allocating funds to hire 30 more police officers in Cleveland, 15 more officers in Detroit, and 29 more officers in Milwaukee and surrounding cities.

What they're saying: “For decades, the Department of Justice has achieved significant success when utilizing our anti-violent crime task forces and federal law enforcement agents to enforce federal law and assist American cities that are experiencing upticks in violent crime," Attorney General Bill Barr said in the agency's press release.

  • "The Department of Justice’s assets will supplement local law enforcement efforts, as we work together to take the shooters and chronic violent criminals off of our streets.”

Go deeper

Video could be new gold standard for urban traffic management

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Here's a thought that occurred to a few people while weaving their cars through double-parked Amazon trucks and Ubers: Let's find a way to monetize those scofflaws.

Why it matters: Video cameras mounted on city streets — and connected to the right software and technology — could one day be a gold standard for urban traffic management.

1 hour ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Biden unveils "Building a Better America" branding

President Biden speaks on infrastructure while visiting a bridge in Woodstock, N.H., last month. Photo: John Tully/Getty Images

President Biden today launched a new website and unveiled bold new branding as part of a nationwide tour to sell the benefits of his infrastructure package.

Why it matters: The White House says passage of the new law shows the ability to "forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins" even in these toxic times.