The FBI is signaling its support for a new agreement with the city of Portland that would allow the agency to work with the city’s police officers on a case-by-case basis.
The Portland City Council is set to vote on the new resolution at its meeting Wednesday.
“Our goal is to have a good working relationships either in formal task forces, arrangements or informally when that’s not possible,” FBI special agent in charge Renn Cannon told OPB on Tuesday. “The only way that we’re going to make progress on these complex investigations, complex crime problems, complex questions of public safety is to work in partnership.”
The city’s relationship with the FBI has been rocky in recent months.
In February, Portland became the second major city, following San Francisco, to withdraw from one of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces. 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.
The new agreement would prevent Portland police officers from providing “any information for the purpose of federal immigration law enforcement.” It allows the city’s police chief, at the request of the FBI, to “temporarily assign” officers to the local JTTF to assist in investigating suspected cases of terrorism, threats to life and hate crimes that have a “direct nexus” to the city.
The resolution was put forward by Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who were at odds about whether the city should leave the task force.
“Our resolution was drafted with community concerns in mind, with the operational needs of the Portland Police Bureau accounted for, and is an example of the collaborative work that can be done with all Council offices,” Wheeler said in a statement Tuesday. “This is significant considering a related vote was split in February and is being followed by a unanimous one.”
Hardesty didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the FBI expanded JTTFs across the country to all 56 of its field offices. In Portland and elsewhere, JTTFs are divided into two teams: one that focuses on international terrorism and the other on domestic threats. Officers who work on the task force serve as conduits between the FBI and their local department.
The decision to withdraw in Portland came after voters elected Hardesty. She campaigned on pulling the city out of the JTTF over concerns about immigration arrests.
At the time, the FBI acknowledged JTTFs across the country used immigration related arrests to address terrorism related threats. But they said immigration is not a priority for the FBI unless there’s a criminal or national security threat. In December, Cannon said the Portland police officers deputized on the JTTF do not work cases that have any immigration component.
Last year, the FBI directly lobbied city commissioners to not leave the task force.
On Tuesday, Cannon said his office has not reached out to the city’s commissioners directly in recent months. Instead, he said, they’ve worked with Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and others PPB leaders.
Cannon declined to comment directly on the specifics of the resolution.
“We understand that the Portland Police, they’ve got to be responsive to the elected officials and the City Council,” he said. “We’ll continue working with the Portland Police Bureau to work out the relationship that is going to be mutually beneficial and within the realm of the guidelines laid down by the oversight that they have.”
The City Council meeting is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.