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Oregonian Editorial Argues Portland Should Maintain Relationship with FBI Task Force

By The Oregonian 
Editorial Board

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who reportedly has not yet established a position on the matter, recently scheduled a 90-minute hearing to discuss “withdrawal from JTTF involvement.” The Dec. 18 discussion, perhaps fittingly, will occur in the midst of a holiday season devoted to ritual. Portland City Council seems to revisit the city’s participation in the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force as regularly as kids set out milk and cookies in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Unlike the fat guy in the red suit, though, the value of JTTF involvement is real.

The JTTF is the formal arrangement by which local law enforcement agencies cooperate with the FBI in investigating threats to national security. Local agencies that participate fully – including, in Oregon, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Port of Portland police – devote officers to the task force full-time.  These officers are given security clearances and trained to investigate counterterrorism, says Greg Bretzing, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland office. By mutual agreement, he says, they also abide by the rules of their own departments and the laws of their state.

The value of this arrangement is fairly obvious:  Local law enforcement officers “add expertise and long-term, deep-seated knowledge of where we’re operating,” says Bretzing. They’re “out on the street every day interacting with members of the community.” JTTF participation, thus, encourages the free flow of information needed for accurate and efficient law enforcement.

This intermingling of local and federal police agencies has in some places triggered opposition from civil liberties groups, which worry that local officers might engage in intrusive actions inconsistent with their own jurisdictions’ values. This tension between public safety and civil liberties has dogged Portland’s on-again, off-again relationship with the JTTF ever since the city joined in 1997. In 2005, in fact, Portland famously dropped out.

The city patched things up with the FBI – sort of – in 2011, one year after 19-year-old Mohamed Mohamud tried to detonate what he thought was a bomb in Pioneer Courthouse Square during a tree-lighting ceremony. Rather than rejoining as a full participant, however, Portland resolved to participate halfway. Under the arrangement, Portland makes officers available to the JTTF on an as-needed basis, and the city’s police chief must deliver annual reports to the City Council describing the extent of the department’s involvement. Thus, the thinking goes, the city does its part to enhance public safety while also exercising oversight.

Problem is, these annual reports have proven too light on details to satisfy some commissioners, and the FBI has declined to give Hales, the commissioner in charge of the police department, the security clearance needed to know more about the JTTF-related work of city officers.

To read more click here.


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