Portland is out of the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force again.
The Portland City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday to withdraw the city’s police officers from the JTTF, a partnership between federal agencies and local law enforcement.
Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty, Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly supported the change. They worry there is not enough civilian oversight to ensure Portland officers abide by civil rights laws and say there isn’t enough evidence to show the task force has made Portland safer.
"The current president has made clear his animosity toward Muslims, immigrants and people of color," Fritz said, noting that the FBI has not followed through on promises to provide more, regular information on the group's work since Portland re-entered the partnership several years ago. "I found it hard to trust the JTTF under President Obama. It’s impossible now."
The vote is a significant win for Hardesty, the newest city commissioner who ran last year on a promise to get Portland out of the federal task force.
"For a whole year, I talked about this on the campaign trail, and everywhere I went, people were concerned about whether or not their data was collected and used in a way that was against Oregon state law," she said. "We are here today because I am about keeping promises."
Hardesty and Fritz had made their positions clear before Wednesday's meeting. Eudaly ended up being the deciding vote and said she does not have confidence city leaders have enough oversight to prevent Portland officers from engaging in police work that targets immigrants and other groups.
"Even good people can make bad decisions, especially in a flawed system," she said. "I don't trust the system the JTTF functions within. I do not trust the administration who oversees it. ... Do you feel safer today than you did five years ago? I don't either."
Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish voted against leaving the terrorism task force.
Wheeler said he respected his colleagues' decision and reasoning — but disagreed.
"I absolutely believe that the JTTF is highly imperfect. It could do much better," he said. "As the police commissioner, I cannot support a policy that appears to favor politics or ideology over the safety and wellbeing of Portlanders. While values are extremely important, values alone cannot protect the safety of the community."
Fish asked his colleagues to slow down and consider tweaks to, rather than a wholesale rejection of, Portland's relationship with the FBI-led group. They declined.
"The FBI will continue doing this work without our involvement," Fish said. "I'd rather have our values at the table. Why would we walk away and forfeit our opportunity for oversight of their work?"
Portland is the second West Coast city to withdraw from the task force since President Trump took office. San Francisco withdrew its officers from the group in 2017. The city withdrew once before, under Mayor Tom Potter, entered into a convoluted "as needed" relation under Mayor Sam Adams and then rejoined in full under Mayor Charlie Hales in 2015.
The city’s resolution does not end the task force’s work or its partnerships with six other local law enforcement agencies that are part of the JTTF.
During the debate, federal officials stressed that they will continue to work with Portland officers when needed. But city officers will cease their participation within 90 days.
"The FBI's mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. With the withdrawal of the city of Portland from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, that mission doesn't change," Renn Cannon, the FBI's special agent in charge for Oregon, said in a written statement. "... To this end, the FBI will continue to partner formally with other members of the JTTF as well as informally with cities and counties across the state to share information and address threats as appropriate."
Portland’s vibrant left-wing activist community turned out in force at Wednesday's meeting to show its support for withdrawal. The council chamber was standing-room only with an overflow room filled as well.
Public testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of withdrawal. Of the more than 30 people who spoke, all but two urged the council to pull the city's two police officers from the JTTF.
The people who spoke largely repeated familiar arguments regarding the task force, noting the FBI’s history of surveillance of left-wing activists and condemning the federal government's zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy and practice of separating families.
Millie Hobaish, the daughter of a Yemeni immigrant, told the council she is a firsthand witness to the mistreatment of Muslims and immigrants by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Portland: “My family’s home was raided when I was 10 years old after several years of very heavy surveillance,” Hobaish told city leaders. “My father was detained on charges that he was not allowed to know for the first portion of the trial.”
Hobaish said a judge eventually found the charges against her father unsubstantiated and threw them out.
Court records reviewed by OPB confirm a key part of Hobaish’s account: A judge dismissed the charges against her father with prejudice after prosecutors requested the case be dropped.
“By that time the raid had already destroyed my family,” she told the council. “My father was left chronically underemployed and unable to find skilled labor. My mother was permanently traumatized."
Hobaish said she left school at 10 as a result of the raid and earned her high school diploma years later at a community college.
“It has sowed a complete distrust between the Muslim community and the city of Portland," she said. "With that, I urge that you guys vote against remaining in the JTTF."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the deadline for Portland's police officers to withdraw from the JTTF following the council's vote.