‘A lot more work to do’: US AG William Barr visits Indianapolis amid record homicides

U.S. Attorney General William Barr visited Indianapolis on Thursday where he touted the success of a federal anti-crime operation but conceded there’s “a lot more work to do.”

Barr gave remarks in front of media prior to a roundtable discussion with local law enforcement leaders. No questions were allowed and the media was asked to leave before the roundtable began. 

Barr addressed spikes in violent crime across the country and discussed Operation Legend, a collaboration between local police and federal agents to tackle gun violence, drug trafficking and gang activity.

The operation was first deployed in Kansas City and has since gone to places like Indianapolis, Chicago, Cleveland and Memphis. It’s now active in nine cities, Barr said. 

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks at a roundtable in downtown Indianapolis, Thurs, Oct. 22, 2020. Barr was in town to talk about Operation Legend, a multi-city, multi-agency task force to address crime in America.

The Indy operation was announced Aug. 14 as a 45-day effort, but has since been extended indefinitely. More than 65 people here have been federally charged so far.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Josh Minkler said Thursday that as a result of Operation Legend, 216 “crime guns” have been seized in Indianapolis and thousands of grams of heroin and fentanyl have been confiscated. Minkler said a typical dose of heroin is 1/10th of a gram, and three milligrams of fentanyl is fatal. 

Police have also seized over $1.5 million in drug proceeds, or what Minkler called “blood money.”

Operation Legend:What critics, supporters say about federal effort to curb violence

Indianapolis recorded its 160th criminal homicide on Oct 11, breaking the city’s previous annual record before the year’s end. In 2018, there were 159 criminal homicides. 

The city has also seen a spike in non-fatal shootings, recording 480 such incidents as of Oct. 9, a nearly 40% increase year-over-year.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor briefly spoke before the roundtable. He noted the city’s record-breaking homicides and said Operation Legend is “helping us in combating those numbers.”

“And I’m very confident that as it continues moving forward, we’ll see those benefits to the city.”

In a previous interview with IndyStar, Minkler referenced a decrease in homicides since Operation Legend started, but said it’s hard to know how much the operation impacted those numbers. 

“Rather than getting into correlation or causation because those are difficult concepts, I’ll say this: there were 176 guns on the street before we started, and those guns are not on the streets [any longer],” Minkler said earlier this month. “I believe that has some impact on gun violence.”

Indianapolis crime:How Indy’s homicide rate compares to other Midwestern cities

Barr said violent crime was at its peak in the ’90s and that “there was a consensus” to go after repeat offenders and trigger pullers. It worked, he said, with violent crime steadily decreasing over the decades. He said federal law enforcement can’t be the “front line,” but that it can provide for tougher sentences and keep offenders off the streets longer.

Barr said the first three years of the President Donald Trump administrations saw a decrease in violent crime. He attributed the country’s recent spike in violence to the coronavirus pandemic and the “demonization” of police, among other things. 

As of Oct. 14, Operation Legend yielded more than 5,000 arrests across all cities, including nearly 250 for homicide, according to a Department of Justice press release. Over 1,000 people have been charged with federal offenses and more than 2,000 firearms have been seized. 

Barr said there are plans to increase funding for state and local police departments, including Indianapolis, to invest in more technology, like body cameras. 

Contact IndyStar reporter Elizabeth DePompei at 317-444-6196 or edepompei@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @edepompei.