The Portland City Council voted 4-0 Wednesday to adopt a new framework for how city police officers will work with the FBI now that city leaders have formally left the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The City Council voted earlier this year to pull Portland officers from the FBI-led JTTF. As they debated a new relationship Wednesday, they heard thanks from people pleased with that earlier decision.
The new agreement allows the Portland Police Bureau to work with the JTTF on a case-by-case basis, versus having city officers on permanent assignment to the task force. The city police chief can “temporarily assign” officers to the local JTTF to assist investigating suspected cases of terrorism, threats to life and hate crimes that have a “direct nexus” to the city.
The compromise prevents Portland police officers from providing “any information for the purpose of federal immigration law enforcement.”
The FBI declined comment on the vote Wednesday, though FBI Special Agent In Charge Renn Cannon told OPB earlier this week the agency supported anything that allowed for a closer working relationship with the Portland Police Bureau.
Some who testified before the council urged the city’s leaders to go even further in curbing PPB’s cooperation with federal officials.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who voted against leaving the JTTF in February, voted for the new agreement and called it a good example of compromise between people who have very different ideas about public safety.
“We’ve come together in a unified way on this,” he said. “It shows a path forward and proves to the community that we can in fact work together and collaborate.”
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who was elected last year in part on a promise to end Portland’s JTTF involvement, also voted in favor of the new definition of the city’s relationship to the task force.
She said she’ll be keeping a close eye on how the police use their limited, case-by-case freedom to work with federal officials.
“This is a compromise,” she said. “In a compromise, nobody gets everything they want.”
While the public largely expressed support for the resolution and thanked members of the council for pulling out of the task force, some questioned language in the resolution that they believed could lead to an even greater cooperation between police and the FBI.
Specifically at issue was a line allowing the police chief to temporarily assign officers to the JTTF to investigate “any individual suspected cases of terrorism and/or threats to life, including hate crimes, in or having a direct nexus to the City of Portland.”
“By including this language ‘and/or’ it doesn’t focus just on terrorism, and then it expands the mission and therefore there’s mission creep,” said Brandon Mayfield, a Portland man who was arrested in 2004 after the FBI mistakenly connected him to a Madrid train bombing.
“Again, I’m primary here to say thank you, all of you,” he added.
Portland followed San Francisco to become the second major city to pull out of a JTTF. A majority of the council voted to withdraw over concerns about immigration related arrests and the FBI’s history of surveilling certain political and religious groups.
Commissioner Nick Fish, who voted to remain part of the task force, noted Wednesday that other progressive cities have been able to work out agreements with the FBI.
“Seattle, Boston, Denver, Oakland and New York have formed partnerships between their police bureaus and the FBI without sacrificing civil liberties,” Fish said. “A majority of the council disagrees with the mayor and me on this important issue. Therefore, I believe the resolution before us today is a thoughtful alternative.”
Wheeler noted that even though Portland is no longer part of the JTTF, it still operates in the community.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz joined the council in passing the measure. Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was absent from the council meeting.