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Give the FBI a Chance?

Randy Leonard Helps Sam Adams Cinch a Deal on the JTTF

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IN THE CORRIDORS of Portland City Hall, Commissioner Randy Leonard is known, among other things, as a "closer"—a bulldog who can stride into difficult negotiations and emerge with what he shouldn't: a victory.

Need proof? Perhaps you've watched the Timbers play. Surely you've seen the newly brilliant "Portland Oregon" sign. Both bear Leonard's imprint.

And after Mayor Sam Adams last week submitted his long-awaited plan for ending the Portland Police Bureau's unique estrangement from a regional FBI anti-terrorism task force—only to have a signature provision for protecting civil liberties panned as unworkable by the feds and City Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman—Leonard seems to have done it again.

"Sam's done a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of work," says Ty Kovatch, Leonard's chief of staff. "But Randy's good at these things. The definition of a good mayor is to use all the resources available to him."

Late Tuesday, April 26, Adams' office released a new version of Adams' Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) resolution. And in a significant coup—thanks to Leonard's intervention—sources say it appears to have support from both US Attorney Dwight Holton and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It also is expected to win support from a majority of the city council.

"We're cautiously optimistic," Andrea Meyer, the ACLU's legislative director, said just before the Mercury's press time.

She was coming from a meeting with Leonard and the city's legal staff, one day after Holton came in for a similar meeting, and she hadn't yet seen the final resolution.

"Portland is poised to take its rightful place as a national leader on both civil rights and preventing and investigating terrorism," Holton wrote in an email about the resolution. "We're going to get this done. It's a huge leap forward."

The compromise may put a coda on a JTTF debate that's been raging ever since the FBI arrested a 19-year-old Somali American last year on charges that he tried to blow up Pioneer Courthouse Square during the city's Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

The resolution appears to preserve the mayor's primary goal—creating a more formal relationship with the FBI, but still allowing our cops to work with the JTTF on a case-by-case basis. But it makes clear for the first time that Portland will not be signing a binding agreement with the FBI, something that every other city participating in a JTTF has done.

The resolution also attempts to keep Portland cops from running afoul of Oregon's strict protections against racial, religious, and political profiling when there isn't "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity. But it does so far more explicitly than the previous resolution.

While Adams' first proposal limited Portland cops only to "full investigations," a term that gave Holton fits, the new language spells out that our cops would only join terrorism investigations where there's a "criminal nexus" and says they may only use investigative techniques that comply with Oregon law, spelling out the specific Oregon codes that deviate from federal law.

The latest proposal also retains other important changes sought by Adams, in some cases strengthening them: the police chief would remain in charge of any officers working with the task force, the city attorney would be looped in when officers have concerns about their conduct, JTTF work would only happen as the police bureau's resources allow it, participating cops would be trained on Oregon law vs. federal law, and the council would receive annual reports on the task force's work.

"The city will be well served by this agreement," Adams said in a statement.

The council has scheduled a hearing on the proposal for Thursday, April 28, at 2 pm. As of press time, it was unclear whether a vote would also be held. Earlier Tuesday afternoon, groups opposed to Portland's rekindled relationship with the JTTF announced a 12:30 pm rally outside city hall on Thursday.

"The JTTF and FBI actively target anti-war protesters, Palestinian rights activists, Muslims, environmental activists, animal rights activists, the house-less, and ethnic minorities," the Oregon Progressive Party said in a statement. "This is not acceptable, and we urge the city council not to let Portland's officers become involved."

The hearing follows months of study and negotiation largely led by Mayor Adams, some of it in front of the public, but much of it behind closed doors, in talks that reportedly reached all the way to Washington, DC. Rejoining the task force was first proposed by Saltzman, the only commissioner to vote against the city's 2005 withdrawal, but Adams quickly snatched up the political baton and ran with it.

Until he didn't. Hearings were promised, and then postponed, while Adams jockeyed with the federal government, the ACLU, and his fellow commissioners. At one point this month, he was working on a draft that had approval from Fish, Saltzman, and Holton, but lost that support after adding stronger civil rights protections at the urging of Leonard and the ACLU. Finding a way to describe those protections emerged as a sticking point.

But the ACLU also has been outspoken in documenting abuses by the FBI, from spying on peace activists to shadowing people who merely look "Muslim." Those actions might be legal under federal law, ACLU's Meyer said, but not under Oregon law, which requires "reasonable suspicion." Meyer said any compromise also remains "imperfect."

The proposal creates "what we hope are really limited collaborations that meet a threshold that is appropriate for Oregon," says Meyer.

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