By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - A U.S. law enforcement agency is considering transferring some federal agents to Chicago to combat violence in the nation's third-largest city, where homicides last year reached a 20-year high, a spokesman for the agency said on Friday.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman David Coulson declined to specify how many agents might be sent to Chicago, saying in an email "this continues to be fluid."
CNN, citing two unnamed law enforcement sources, late on Friday reported the plan called for the transfer of 20 agents, which would bolster the ATF's force in Chicago to over 60 from the current force of more than 40.
The plan follows a Jan. 24 tweet by President Donald Trump in which he said, "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage'" he would "send in the Feds!"
At the time, it was not clear what Trump meant by "the Feds."
CNN reported one of its law enforcement sources said the expansion of ranks in Chicago was planned for some time and was unrelated to Trump's tweet.
"ATF is exploring various options as we are committed to furthering law enforcement efforts in Chicago," Coulson, a senior special agent for the ATF, said in an email. "One of those options is to send additional agents to Chicago on permanent transfers."
The Chicago homicide toll for 2016 reached 762 killings, the most in 20 years.
"We have received no word from the federal government to confirm these reports, but it would be welcome news if the administration has indeed agreed to one of (Chicago) Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel's requests for federal resources," Adam Collins, a spokesman for the mayor, said in a statement.
Collins added that city officials remain hopeful the federal government would take other measures, such as sending more Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and boosting prosecutions of federal gun crimes.
Chicago, with a population of 2.7 million, posted more shootings and homicides last year than any other U.S. city, according to FBI and Chicago police data, and its murder clearance rate, a measure of solved and closed cases, is one of the country's lowest.
Mayor Emanuel last year unveiled an expanded student mentorship program to keep at-risk youth away from gangs and the city is expanding its Police Department. Emanuel is the former chief of staff to Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker)