Will SF follow Portland on FBI spy concerns?


The Human Rights Commission and the Police Commission will hold a May 18 joint hearing at City Hall to discuss a recently released memo between the SFPD and the FBI that suggests that SFPD officers assigned to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force are under the control & rules of the FBI. The concern is that the memo allows SFPD officers to circumvent local intelligence-gathering policies, departmental orders and California privacy laws that prevent spying on people without any evidence of a crime. And the hearing comes a few weeks after Portland’s City Council unanimously approved a resolution that Portland Mayor Sam Adams introduced to clarify that Portland and FBI have decided not to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the JTTF, but that the City will be cooperating with the JTTF according to the terms of Adams’ resolution.

During Portland’s public hearing, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon testified in support of the resolution, while raising concerns about the current and past practices of the FBI and the need to ensure that City personnel comply with Oregon laws.

“The Mayor’s proposal represents a thoughtful framework that should meet the City’s and the FBI’s needs to keep our community safe while also ensuring that Portland police stay within the confines of the Oregon Constitution and Oregon Charge of such violations, and a public annual report on the work the Portland Police Bureau does with the FBI JTTF," ACLU Legislative Director Andrea Meyer stated.

“It is not a question of if but when, our officers will be asked to engage in investigative activities in violation of Oregon law,” Meyer testified. “To guard against this, we expect that there will be appropriate training of PPB personnel not just on Oregon law but on the FBI guidelines and the minimal criteria necessary for them to be able to engage in assessments and preliminary inquiries so that our PPB officers will be equipped to ask the right questions and refuse to participate and report this to the Chief and, in turn, the Commissioner-in-Charge.”
During Portland’s hearing, Mayor Adams stressed that the FBI’s standard JTTF MOU (which is similar to the agreement SFPD officers have operated under since March 2007) —is neither clear nor adequate in terms of addressing local civil rights concerns. And that's why he sought and won federal consent for a non-MOU arrangement with Portland participating on a limited basis, on its own terms, with local civilian oversight and involvement from the City Attorney.  

“The question pending in SF is whether local officials -- from the Police Commission, to City Attorney, to Mayor, will eventually insist on a similarly protective arrangement here, “John Crew of the ACLU of Northern California told the Guardian. “Right now, Portland shows what's possible, and what the federal government will accommodate. I don't know why Bay Area cities would not insist on at least something this strong.”

San Francisco's joint hearing takes place May 18, 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. in Room 250 at City Hall.