By his 11th-hour addition of language unacceptable to federal law enforcement officials, Mayor Sam Adams
has effectively scuttled
the City of Portland's re-entry into the Joint Terrorism Task Force
. And he's done it
in a way that illustrates some clever political calculations.
In a letter
[PDF] to Adams sent yesterday, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton
made clear that Adams' new proposal—that Portland Police Bureau officers be involved only in "investigations" and not in more preliminary "assessments" of terrorist activity—is a deal-breaker.
"Unfortunately, the proposed draft contains one provision which veers from policy and oversight into what I consider micro-management of the work of the Task Force. Specifically, the resolution seeks to dictate for the JTTF which stages of an investigation Task Force Offices from the PPB can work on. The Department of Justice considers this provision fatally flawed in a number of ways:
First, the provision stems from a faulty premise about what “assessments” are. Assessments never involve intrusive techniques such as search warrants, wiretaps, and undercover operations – techniques like those are flatly prohibited in an “assessment.” Rather, assessments involve following up on leads through the kind of routine steps that PPB officers take every single day – steps like talking to people on the street or looking at open source webpages online," Holton wrote on April 19.
"Second, the restriction is not workable. Investigation and prevention of complex crimes and terrorism are typically fluid and fast-moving, and it makes no sense to ask PPB officers to be in for one part of a conversation, but out for another part of the same conversation as investigators discuss findings from assessments, investigations, etc., in evaluating and addressing terrorist threats in Portland and beyond.
Third, the restriction crosses the line from policy-setting and oversight and into day-to-day operations. Political leadership on policy and oversight of law enforcement is essential to liberty, but political involvement in day-to-day operations of law enforcement can undermine both public safety and civil liberty."
So why would the mayor effectively kill a deal that has been the subject of intense negotiation and word-smithing for more than five months?
At a press briefing this morning, Adams insisted that he isn't killing the deal. He says he was open to re-joining the JTTF, if only the feds would agree to his terms. He said his proposal offers "a vast increase in city resources," available to fight terror.
That claim appears to be part of an effort to shift blame for killing the deal to the feds. Such a shift, whether successful or not, allows Adams to be able to claim that he did all he could to make Portland safer but also claim its not his fault the feds were insufficiently concerned about civil rights. He also keeps the faith with his closest council colleague, Commissioner Randy Leonard
, who has expressed strong concerns about rejoining the task force.
From a political perspective, Adams, who faces re-election next year, appears to have made a tactical decision that goes something like this: Those who support re-joining are generally unlikely to support him, while those Portlanders most opposed to JTTF are more likely to support him.
Adams said the changes he inserted into the most recent draft proposal are not politically driven and are aimed at finding a compromise that will satisfy the ACLU and the feds. Such a compromise, he explained, could put an end to the binary "in or out" argument about the JTTF. But unless the feds change their stance, the city will remain "out."
That prospect may please Adams supporters, but it leaves the mayor with some risk, which he defined today. "The status quo does not protect our safety adequately," Adams said. "We are not safe enough now."
That candid assessment raises the stakes for Adams and his colleagues should there be any future terrorism arrests in Portland.