Portland City Council voted Thursday to permit Portland police officers to work more closely with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force. April Baer reports the vote closes out nearly five months of deliberations.
Mayor Sam Adams first proposed re-visiting Portland’s role in the JTTF last winter. Thirty drafts later, the policy has been examined by city attorneys, council staff, civil rights groups, the Justice Department, and the hundreds of Portlanders who attended several public meetings.
The final language lays out a lengthy set of oversight rules. Even Commissioners who expressed serious reservations at first, like Amanda Fritz, saw it as an appropriate compromise.
Amanda Fritz: “I think there’s pieces of this that any one of us is not entirely comfortable with, but as a package and as a [sic] agreement which is pretty historic, I think it moves us forward and it does make us safer.”
More than one Commissioner expressed resignation, saying since the FBI would be operating in the city whether or not Portland officers cooperated, they hope the resolution’s system of civilian oversight will let investigations proceed with transparency. In the end, the Council vote was unanimous.
That didn’t sit well with the standing-room-only crowd that packed Council Chambers for the hearing.
Chani Geigle-Teller is a community organizer at Sisters of the Road. That’s a non-profit that works on hunger and housing issues as well as civil rights. She says increased contact with the FBI represents a step back for freedom of expression.
Chani Geigle-Teller “We understand that because we are resisting status quo, we will be targetted, but we also expect our local leaders to make it a challenge for the FBI and other enforcement systems. No police at daily briefings, no FBI monitoring our movements, and no JTTF in Portland.”
Outside City Hall, dozens of protestors dressed as cheerleaders shouted their message through megaphones.
A key piece of language was written by Commissioner Randy Leonard. Last week it looked as though the resolution might not pass, over a provision that limited Portland officers to work on full-blown investigations.
Leonard came up with this revision: officers would only participate in investigations of suspected terrorism that have a “criminal nexus.” If that phrase is unfamiliar, Leonard says, it should be.
Randy Leonard: “I did that based on discussions with a number of parties and my belief that the Council and future Councils could define what that means for themselves, and it not be a term of art the FBI uses. I intentionally looked for language that wasn’t in the federal code or in the attorney general’s guidelines or the FBI’s guidelines.”
The city has approved officers to work with the Task Force on a case-by-case basis, with a yearly public report on all officers’ activities.