US President Donald Trump announced last night that he will send federal agents into Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to help combat rising crime, expanding the administration's intervention in local enforcement as he runs for re-election under a "law-and-order" mantle.
Using the same alarmist language he has employed to describe illegal immigration, Mr Trump painted Democrat-led cities as out of control and lashed out at the "radical left".
"In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police department," Mr Trump said at a White House event, blaming the movement for "a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence".
The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyperpoliticised moment when Mr Trump is grasping for a re-election strategy now that the coronavirus has upended the economy and immigration is largely at a standstill.
With less than four months until election day, Mr Trump has been warning that violence will worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November.
Crime has surged in some cities such as Chicago, New York and Philadelphia before any major policing overhauls could be made. In trying to explain violence in some cities, experts point to the unprecedented moment in the country - a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, stay-at-home orders, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather. And compared with other years, crime in 2020 is down overall.
Local authorities have complained that deploying federal agents to their cities has exacerbated tensions on the streets, while residents have accused the government of violating their constitutional rights. Civil unrest in Portland, Oregon, only escalated after federal agents were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable case.
Hundreds of federal agents have been sent to Kansas City, Missouri, to help quell a record rise in violence after a four-year-old boy's shooting death. Sending federal agents to help localities is not uncommon.
Usually, the Justice Department sends agents under its own umbrella, like agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the Drug Enforcement Agency. But this surge effort will include at least 100 Department of Homeland Security Investigations officers working in the region who generally conduct drug trafficking and child exploitation investigations.
DHS officers have already been dispatched to Portland and other localities to protect federal property and monuments.
The spike in crime has hit some cities hard at a time when their resources were already stretched thin from the pandemic. But local leaders, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, initially rejected the move to send in federal forces.
Ms Lightfoot later said she and other local officials had spoken with federal authorities and come to an understanding. Chicago has seen 414 homicides this year, compared with 275 during the same period in 2019. A barrage of gunfire left 15 people dead on Tuesday near a funeral home on the South Side.
"I've been very clear that we welcome actual partnership," the Democratic mayor said Tuesday after speaking with federal officials. "But we do not welcome dictatorship. We do not welcome authoritarianism, and we do not welcome unconstitutional arrest."
In New Mexico, meanwhile, Democratic elected officials were cautioning Mr Trump against sending in federal agents, with senator Martin Heinrich calling on Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales to resign.
"Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the president's stormtroopers into Albuquerque," the Democratic senator said in a statement.