Portland dropped out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2005 over concerns that local cops would be violating privacy laws. But in November 2010, the FBI thwarted a bomb plot allegedly linked to terrorists, and city officials came under pressure to rejoin the JTTF.
But Mayor Sam Adams has insisted on language that would bar local cops from doing surveillance and assessments, which, apparently, won't fly with the feds.
On April 20, Willamette Week, the Portland alternative paper, wrote that Adams "effectively scuttled" Portland's reentry into its local JTTF because of his anti-spying language.
In an April 19 letter to Adams, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton stated that Adams' proposal of only allowing officers with the Portland Police Bureau to be involved in investigations and not in FBI assessments was a deal-breaker.
"Unfortunately, as currently drafted, the proposed resolution does not provide a way in which the PPB can rejoin the team," Holton wrote. "There is a single provision that stands as a roadblock to participation — specifically the provision that seeks to have the City Council delineate only certain investigative steps a task force officer can take part in. Specifically, the resolution seeks to dictate for the JTTF which stages of an investigation task force officers from the [Portland police] can work on."
"Investigation and prevention of complex crimes and terrorism are typically fluid and fast-moving," he added. "It makes no sense to ask [Portland police] officers to be in for one part of a conversation, but out for another part of the same conversation as investigators discuss findings from assessments, investigations, etc. in evaluating and addressing terrorist threats in Portland and beyond."
The message isn't lost on San Francisco civil liberties activists. If you don't let your cops join the spy squad, they can't be a part of the task force.
"It was one thing to join the JTTF 10 years ago when they were operating under guidelines that, while not to the ALCU's taste, were at least tied to some level of suspicion," Adams said. "But they have taken their procedures and guidelines and moved them to the far right. It's one thing to say that it's necessary for the FBI to do that, and quite another to say that local agencies have to forfeit their own policies — and with no public debate or decision-making."
ASK THE FEDS FIRST
Further complicating the question of police oversight is the fact that George Gascón, who was police chief when civil liberties groups started asking for a copy of the MOU last fall, refused to turn over the document without asking the feds first.
In a Jan. 4 letter to the ACLU and ALC, Gascón and Mahoney stated that the SFPD could not speak to information about the duties, functions, and numbers of officers assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force "without conferring with our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
"I am sure you can appreciate the delicate balance we hold in crafting policy that not only supports our mission in the ultimate protection of life, but also in advancing democratic values through collaboration with the communities we serve," Gascón and Mahoney wrote.
And Gascón is now district attorney.
"It raises the question of accountability," said Public Defender Jeff Adachi "We want to make sure that police officers working in the city, regardless of whether it be for the feds or the SFPD, are complying with general orders and policies established by the department. But when officers go on an assignment with the feds, we don't know if they are operating under parameters set by local law."
Unearthing the FBI's hitherto clandestine MOU with the SFPD appears to be yet another sign that local police are increasingly being subjected to federal policies not in keeping with local procedures.