Commissioner Fish's Statement on City's Withdrawal from the Joint Terrorism Task Force
February 13, 2019
I have a formal statement I want to read.
But before I do, I want to say to my many friends in this room – I’ve heard loud and clear the concerns and values you’ve shared with us today.
I’ve been proud to stand with you on opposing White nationalism, protecting our Sanctuary City status, and challenging President Trump’s Muslim travel ban in court.
While I believe that the relationship between the City and the Joint Terrorism Task Force can be strengthened, I also share many of your concerns.
Now to my prepared statement:
This is the third time I’ve voted for Portland to be part of the JTTF.
Each time we’ve debated this question, I’ve concluded that Portland is safer when we have a relationship with federal law enforcement.
And we are in good company. Progressive cities like Oakland, New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles have made the same judgement.
Nobody disputes that Portland faces serious terrorism threats – both domestic and international.
My confidential briefings from federal law enforcement have reinforced this sobering reality.
The question is – can we balance safety and security on one hand with protecting civil liberties on the other? I believe our experience since we rejoined the JTTF in 2015 proves we can.
The two Portland Police officers assigned to the task force – Matt and Brian – are required to follow state law, City Code, and bureau policy directives. The Mayor, Chief Outlaw, the U.S. Attorney, our City Attorney, the FBI, and the two officers have all confirmed that they do.
Let’s take a moment to review some of the criticisms of our current relationship:
President Trump. His election has certainly changed things for the worse. But when I asked the two officers during our work session yesterday if anything changed between the Portland JTTF under the Obama administration and under the Trump administration, they both, emphatically and unequivocally, said no.
The FBI’s history of civil liberties abuses dating back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover. History is history. And that’s why, in any relationship, we must trust but verify. Yesterday’s work session, annual briefings, and updates to our Memorandum of Understanding are all opportunities to do that.
The FBI has not been transparent in their annual reporting. I agree, that’s why I am prepared to propose an amendment to not only require more robust reports, but also to put that requirement in our Memorandum of Understanding with the FBI.
Our participation violates Oregon’s sanctuary law. When asked, Mayor Wheeler, Chief Outlaw, the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, and the two Portland Police officers assigned to the JTTF all confirmed that, in spite of differences between federal and state law, our officers are exclusively bound by state law – and follow it.
Our participation undermines trust in the Portland Police and causes concerns in marginalized communities. I acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do to strengthen the public’s trust in the Portland Police. And I take seriously the concerns raised by community members who feel targeted. I also take seriously the concerns of organizations like the Jewish Federation who support our participation and feel targeted by acts of terrorism.
Our participation somehow corrupts our values. I'm not sure I understand this argument. The FBI will do this work whether or not we continue participating in the JTTF. I’d rather have our values at the table than have the FBI continue on without local supervision. Why would we walk away and forfeit our opportunity for ongoing information and oversight of their work?
I reject the binary choice that is being presented to Council today that we must be all in or all out. I believe there is a third way – strengthening our agreement through a series of amendments I have prepared, to be officially codified in the Memorandum of Understanding.
Council had a work session on Tuesday and Portlanders have just started to engage this big question. There is no reason to rush to judgement.
Many respected community voices including Musse Olol, the Jewish Federation, the Citizens Crime Commission, anti-hate leaders like Randy Blazak, local jurisdictions like Hillsboro and Gresham, the Oregon State Police under the leadership of Governor Kate Brown, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association have expressed their support of Portland remaining in the JTTF. Their voices deserve the same consideration as those of critics.
Mayor, thank you for facilitating this process to date.
This is a good debate. I regret that we’ve been forced to decide this question without adequate time to engage the whole community.
Few issues that come before the Council are as fundamental or as important as this. We have two options before us – the path set forth in this resolution, or the path of setting a national standard for this work. The choice is ours.
I vote no.