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."
Commissioner Randy Leonard