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Terrorism fight must be a priority

Our Opinion

The city of Portland is studying the idea of rejoining - and fully participating in - the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. This is a decision that the city ought to make quickly and affirmatively - not just for the sake of Portland residents, but for the safety of the entire region.

The recent arrest of Mohamed Osman Mohamud for allegedly attempting to bomb the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Pioneer Courthouse Square provided stark evidence that terrorism can occur anywhere. It was an equally chilling reminder that keeping Portland weird - and in this case on the outskirts of fighting terrorism - is not acceptable.

We recognize that the regional terrorism task force did its job well even without Portland's direct participation. For that effort, the public throughout the region should be thankful.

Portland says it stopped participating in the task force due to the city's concerns about how the Bush administration was addressing terrorism. Such an assessment, we think, was based on politics, not safety. Plus, we're certain the city has noticed that the United States has a different president today.

Now, Mayor Sam Adams, Police Chief Mike Reese and members of the City Council are revisiting the decision to pull back from the task force. And true to Portland's style, Adams has set up an involved process to 'assess the city of Portland's membership status.'

That process won't conclude until Feb. 24, but we believe the outcome ought to be obvious: Portland should immediately rejoin the task force. Otherwise, the city's absence remains nationally embarrassing and regionally unacceptable.

A city of Portland's size must share its large law enforcement capacity with the rest of the metro area. Surrounding cities often cannot afford to assign officers to work with the terrorism task force.

As we saw on Nov. 26, the risk of terrorism is not confined to New York City, Washington, D.C., or a major foreign city. Tragic acts of terrorist violence can happen anywhere, including at significant regional facilities such as the interstate bridges across the Columbia River, major employment centers or regional shopping centers.

Portland has been in the spotlight because the city made a conscious decision to drop participation in the joint task force. But we think major suburban cities - Gresham, Beaverton and Hillsboro - also should reconsider whether there are ways they can form partnerships with other agencies and join in with the task force.

Beaverton has not had an officer assigned to the task force for about five years. A large number of staff retirements and other police department turnovers have made it difficult to commit an officer to the terrorism team.

Gresham, meanwhile, says it cannot afford the cost of assigning an officer to the FBI effort, something that would take away from other critical law-enforcement duties.

We think it's time for suburban city councils and police chiefs to resume making regional terrorism prevention a local priority. The Washington County Sheriff's Office has already done it. So should sheriffs in Clackamas and Multnomah counties. Cities that are within close proximity to each other also should consider the possibility of sharing the cost of an officer assigned to the terrorism effort.

That kind of emphasis and investment will send the public as well as the city of Portland a message that terrorism prevention is a priority. Participation in the Joint Terrorism Task Force is not a political or anecdotal choice, but a responsibility - one that Portland should not ignore.


Here are the agencies that take part in the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force:

• Oregon State Police

• Port of Portland Police

• Washington County Sheriff's Office

• Internal Revenue Service

Defense Criminal Investigative Service

• Department of Homeland Security

• Immigration and Customs Enforcement

• Federal Air Marshal Service

• U.S. Secret Service

• U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service

• U.S. Department of Justice

• U.S. Attorney's Office

• U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

• U.S. Marshals Service

• U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service

• U.S. Department of Agriculture

• U.S. Forest Service