Donald Trump has ordered hundreds of federal agents into Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to combat what the US president described as a “rampage of violence” in American cities.
The announcement on Wednesday came as several US cities have seen an uptick in gun violence, a trend Mr Trump has seized on to portray areas led by Democratic officials as centres of lawlessness.
Mr Trump has made the inflammatory pitch as his re-election campaign has stumbled. His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, is leading by double-digits in some polling.
“I’m announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime,” he said at a White House press conference. “We’ve just started this process, and frankly, we have no choice but to get involved.”
It is the latest volley from Mr Trump, who has accused Democratic city leaders of endangering their citizens as they respond to activist demands to defund local police forces in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Some cities have agreed to divert funding from the police to welfare programmes, while the Minneapolis city council has said it would begin dismantling the local police department.
The initiative announced on Wednesday followed fierce controversy over the actions of federal forces in Portland, Oregon, where Mr Trump has deployed officers over objections from local and state Democratic leaders.
In Portland, US marshals and Department of Homeland Security officers, often clad in military-style garb, have used tear gas against protesters at the federal courthouse. In one incident, DHS officers arrested a man and took him away in an unmarked car.
The deployment to Chicago and Albuquerque is part of a separate initiative called “Operation Legend”, which began earlier this month in Kansas City, Missouri, officials said on Wednesday.
“This is a different kind of operation obviously than the tactical teams we use to defend against riots and mob violence,” said William Barr, the US attorney-general. “The operations we are discussing today are very different. They are classic crime fighting.”
About 200 investigators from the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security were sent to Kansas City, in an operation named after LeGend Taliferro, a four-year old who was shot and killed there in June, as part of a broad effort to reduce violent crime.
Mr Barr said a “comparable” number of agents would be sent to Chicago, along with 35 to Albuquerque.
Lori Lightfoot, Chicago mayor, has cautiously welcomed the deployment of investigative agents, after previously denouncing the suggestion that federal forces could be sent in response to protests in the city.
“We welcome actual partnership, but we do not welcome dictatorship,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday.