Council agrees to re-join FBI terrorism task force
UPDATE • U.S. attorney calls agreement 'a huge win' in terror fight
Portland's City Council unanimously agreed Thursday afternoon to clear the way for Portland police officers to participate on the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force investigations.
The decision capped a lengthy and frequently emotional public debate that began in late November when the FBI arrested a young Muslim on charges that he planned to bomb the annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
After a 3 1/2-hour hearing at City Hall, the council approved a resolution setting conditions for police participation in terrorism investigations that do not violate Oregon law. Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard revised the resolution during the past several days to give the city control of police officers involved in task force investigations.
Adams said the agreement was 'a vast improvement on the status quo, because we're one of the few cities that have had these debates and gone into the details that make all of us slightly uncomfortable.'
'We've tried to strike a balance,' Adams said. 'We reject the false choice, that we can only protect civil liberties and civil rights or we can only prevent terrorism. We can do both.'
Leonard said the agreement achieved his goal of giving the city 'a proactive and effective working relationship with a variety of local, state and federal agencies.'
'A huge win'
During the lengthy hearing, critics included representatives of anti-war groups and organizations representing Muslim-Americans and Japanese-Americans. All said the FBI could not be trusted to respect civil rights and civil liberties.
Outside City Hall during the hearing, a couple dozen people opposed to the task force agreement protested the city action.
Support for the resolution came from the Portland Business Alliance and the Citizens Crime Commission.
Perhaps more significant, qualified support also came from the Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Brandon Mayfield, the local Muslim attorney illegally arrested in relation to an international terrorism investigation several years ago. Both argued that provisions in the resolution should prevent the police from participating in investigations not directly related to crimes.
Adams and other council members cited the provisions as unprecedented and essential to ensuring that investigations would not be politically motivated.
'I believe we are all united with a deep concern and deep commitment to keeping our community safe while protecting our values,' said Commissioner Nick Fish. 'I believe this resolution achieves those goals.'
'We are fulfilling our obligations to Portlanders,' to keep them safe, noted Commissioner Dan Saltzman. 'We are working together for a safer Portland and a safer nation.'
'This resolution is very clear; we are not rejoining the JTTF with the standard (memorandum of understanding),' said Commissioner Amanda Fritz. 'It's crafted to be very Portland, and very clear about what our expectations of our officers, our police chief and our commissioner-in-charge (of the police bureau) are. As a package and as an agreement which is pretty historic, I think it moves us forward and it does make us safer.'
U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton thanked the council for its decision, which he called 'a huge win for our efforts to combat terror.'
'Working together, as a team, we can do our job better - and that means we can keep people safer,' Holton said. 'Each member of the council made significant contributions to getting this done - but I want to single out Mayor Adams for his leadership. Without his steadfast commitment to improving the way we prevent and investigate terrorism, we would not have gotten Portland Police Bureau officers back on the team.'
City concerned about civil liberties
The city withdrew from the task force in 2005 when then-Mayor Tom Potter complained her could not adequately supervise the officers assigned to it.
From the beginning of the public process on this issue, the council has kept a sharp focus on the three goals laid out at the beginning: Effectively prevent and investigate criminal acts of terrorism, protect individuals' rights under United States and Oregon law, and keep Portland an open and inclusive community. The adopted resolution does all three.
Adams thanked stakeholders and constituents for the thoughtful public input they've provided over the past several months, and thanked his council colleagues, all of whom made important contributions to the final proposal. In their closing comments, the council noted that this agreement makes Portland safer, while also protecting civil liberties.
Reporter Kevin Harden contributed to this news story.