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City must rejoin terror task force

Our Opinion

In 2005 the Portland City Council voted to pull out of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force - leaving not only Portland, but also the region, with a void of local engagement in investigating and preventing acts of terrorism.

That absence should end this week as the City Council considers a resolution that not only returns Portland police officers to the terrorism task force, but also sets a national model for ensuring that civil rights are protected and local and national laws are followed along the way.

If the City Council needs a reminder of why it is important to act, it need only consider a Beaverton-area resident's plot late last year to detonate a bomb on the night of the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

But in Portland - a community that seemingly fears imagined threats to civil rights more than the direct threat of terrorism - elected leaders often make strange choices.

This time, however, that should not be the case. In fact, a decision by the City Council to participate in the Joint Terrorism Task Force would be good civil rights policy as well as an improvement for public safety.

Such an outcome will occur if the council adopts a proposed resolution that requires Portland police officers to adhere to state civil right laws and report any violation by the overall task force. The resolution goes further to require the city's police chief and city commissioner in charge of the Police Bureau to seek FBI security clearances. It also would require Portland police officers on the task force to seek advice from the city attorney if they have any questions about application of Oregon law.

Mayor Sam Adams and City Commissioners Nick Fish and Randy Leonard have reportedly worked hard to broker an agreement among themselves and federal officials that will earn sufficient council support to pass the resolution.

The sticking point of late has been Adams' stipulation that Portland police officers would be engaged in investigations only during critical times, when an imminent threat of terrorism exists. Yet, the FBI and U.S. attorney for Oregon have rejected that stipulation - and for good reason. Such a requirement does not acknowledge how real police work or terrorism investigations are done. Putting that condition in place may actually politicize police work.

Leonard has responded by proposing that Portland's police engagement be limited to investigations that are compliant with Oregon laws and that involve cases of suspected terrorism with a criminal connection.

This word-smithing, of course, is just political maneuvering to earn sufficient votes for passage. But if that is what it takes to re-engage the city of Portland in the task force and ensure civil-rights practices, than so be it.

We encourage the city to fill this void and vote to rejoin the terrorism task force. In doing so, it can show the nation how Portland really can embrace public safety and civil rights simultaneously.