February 06, 2005
(Updated) Exclusive: What You Don't Know About The Joint Terrorism Task Force
Possible 'Withdrawal' Might Not Be What You Think
Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post.
Should the City Council vote to "withdraw" from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Portland Police Bureau could continue to assign officers to that Task Force, Portland Communique has learned.
At the center of this apparent contradiction is a misconception about the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) commonly understood to govern Portland's participation in the controversial JTTF. That MoU, we now understand, in fact governs not the assignment of Portland officers to the Task Force, but the agreement through which more formal arrangements for such participation are made if deemed necessary.
We began looking into why the Portland Police Bureau continued to have officers assigned to the Task Force despite the September 30, 2004, expiration of the most recent MoU (pdf) after a reader asked if the JTTF now was operating in violation of its agreement.
In the early stages of our investigation, it had appeared that absent the written consent of all parties to the MoU temporarily extending its expiration, the continued assignment of officers to the Task Force over the past four months would have been unauthorized. If true, that requirement might have spelled trouble for the Bureau, because such written consent, according a staffer for the Mayor's office familiar with police issues, did not appear to exist.
As it turned out, such written modification of the MoU is not required in order for Portland officers to continue on assignment to the JTTF, because the MoU itself is not required for that purpose.
In reality, officers of the Portland Police Bureau almost routinely are given multi-jurisdictional assignments, or assigned to multi-jurisdictional task forces, at the sole discretion of Chief Derrick Foxworth as part of his general authority to assign officers as he sees fit, to the "benefit of the City". Such cross-designation of officers rises to the level of requiring City Council action only if ancillary issues -- such as funding, equipment, or specific policy considerations -- come into play.
This previously-undiscussed aspect of how the JTTF functions potentially throws a monkeywrench into indications that City Council may be prepared to vote against authorizing a new Memorandum of Understanding. And the commonly-held misconception about the involvement of Portland officers exposes a glaring problem with the withdrawal debate, caused by one of those very ancillary issues: Oversight.
If City Council declines to renew the Memorandum of Understanding, the result could be the continued assignment of Portland officers to the JTTF under Foxworth's "benefit of the City" authority, with absolutely no civilian oversight at all. Currently, such oversight -- even as arguably ineffective as it is -- is a policy of the Memorandum itself.
As a result, withdrawal from the JTTF as it is normally debated is not as simple as it's always been presented.
If members of the City Council indeed support such a withdrawal, they will need to do more than simply refrain from approving a new MoU. They also would have to expressly ensure that the Portland Police Bureau not assign any officers to the Task Force.
So what does this mean for the three members of City Council who have expressed varying degrees of concern or opposition to the JTTF?
"I am worried that the JTTF MoU that apparently expired sometime back does not seem to be causing a need for a renewal to continue the Portland Police Bureau's participation in the JTTF," said Commissioner Randy Leonard, the only member of the Council thus far to firmly and publicly commit to voting against authorizing a new Memorandum.
Leonard now says he is considering submitting his own resolution which would set two conditions on the participation of any Portland police officers in the Task Force: Any officer assigned to the JTTF must not have security clearances higher than security clearances given the Mayor and Police Chief; and the City must be reimbursed for all costs of any officer assigned to the JTTF.
That resolution would come separately from consideration of the new MoU itself. If it were adopted, officers could not be assigned to the Task Force by Chief Foxworth without those conditions being met -- regardless of the status of any Memorandum of Understanding.
Leonard added that he wanted to wait to discuss with Mayor Tom Potter any conversations that have been conducted with the FBI on the matter of the Task Force.
In recent months, Commissioner Sam Adams has stated that he would vote against a new MoU unless granted oversight clearance, while Commissioner Erik Sten has reiterated concerns over the JTTF which he has expressed in the past, but has not yet committed to voting either way. As of the publication of this item, we had not obtained comment from Adams or Sten on how this new information might affect their approach to the JTTF.
"It makes sense to me that the Council should adopt a resolution such as I am contemplating," Leonard said, "so that if PPB is participating with the JTTF regardless of the fact that the Council has not agreed to a successor MoU, the two conditions that I would require must be met before any type of relationship with the JTTF could occur."
Comment in earlier this afternoon from Commissioner Sten, who said that while it seems that technically Chief Foxworth could assign officers at will, he would be surprised ("practically and politically") if he chose to do so.
"I'd imagine Council could pass some sort of separate action stopping him from taking part, but I would be surprised if that would be necessary," Sten said. "I have spoken with Chief Foxworth during my due dilegence and I believe he is comfortable doing whatever the Council wishes."
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