April 21, 2011 - The Portland City Council has scheduled a public hearing for April 28 at 2 p.m. on the city’s relationship with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the ACLU of Oregon is urging support of the resolution put forward by Mayor Sam Adams.
“The Mayor’s proposal represents a thoughtful framework that should meet the City’s and the FBI’s needs to keep our community safe while also ensuring that Portland police stay within the confines of the Oregon Constitution and Oregon law,” said ACLU Legislative Director Andrea Meyer.
In a prepared statement, the ACLU said the proposal “is consistent with the spirit of the Portland City Council’s 2005 resolution and includes additional safeguards that will make it stronger.”
U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton generally endorsed the proposal yesterday with the exception of one provision that in most circumstances would limit the involvement of Portland police officers unless a matter reaches the “full investigation” stage as defined in the U.S. Attorney General’s Guidelines for terrorism investigations.
Meyer said that particular limitation is very important to prevent Portland officers from violating Oregon laws and the state constitution. She noted that the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General issued a report last year documenting significant abuses by the FBI in monitoring lawful political and religious activity in violation of its own Guidelines.
“Many of the abuses arose when the FBI was engaged in ‘assessments’ and ‘preliminary’ rather than ‘full’ investigations,” Meyer said. “Restricting involvement by Portland police officers until there is evidence a particular individual or organization is involved in a terrorism conspiracy will prevent our police from being put in the difficult position of violating Oregon law, even unintentionally.”
ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Fidanque said the approach in the Mayor’s proposal is necessary because the FBI and other federal intelligence agencies operate under less protective laws and rules than do Oregon police agencies.
“It is now documented beyond dispute that the FBI routinely violates even their own very lax federal restrictions.” Fidanque said. “As a result, the FBI and its partners routinely violate the civil rights and civil liberties of thousands of innocent Americans.”
“Until those practices are changed, the framework that Mayor Adams has proposed is necessary to ensure that local police can continue to operate within the requirements of Oregon law and also maintain the chain of command of our local Chief of Police and civilian elected officials,” Fidanque said.
Oregon law prohibits state and local police agencies from monitoring the lawful political and religious activities of Oregonians unless there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the person or organization is or may be involved in criminal conduct.
Fidanque said the Mayor’s proposal is not perfect, because it contains an exception to the “full” investigation requirement when the FBI determines there is an “imminent terrorist threat” or “a critical incident.”
“Nevertheless, the Mayor’s proposal will substantially reduce the risk that Oregon law will be violated by Portland police officers when they cooperate with the FBI in appropriate cases and we urge the Council to approve it,” Fidanque said.