Nineteen Portland police officers will go to Washington, D.C. to join the ranks of the Presidential Inaugural Task Force at the President George W. Bush’s inauguration Jan. 20.
The inauguration is the first since the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the onset of the war in Iraq, and has been declared by the Department of Homeland Security to be a "National Special Security Event."
Over 6,000 law enforcement officials are expected to be on hand for the event, in part to deal with the estimated 750,000 people expected to come to Washington to either celebrate or protest Bush’s inauguration.
At the first Portland city council meeting under Mayor Tom Potter Jan. 5, councilors voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance that would send the officers to the nation’s capitol. The vote will send 19 out of about 950 city officers, as well as two ranking officers, to Washington D.C. over the weekend.
The officers will be temporarily deputized as federal marshals on the day of the inauguration, and placed under the direction of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, U.S. Park Police, U.S. Marshals, and Federal Bureau of Investigations. They are scheduled to leave for Washington, D.C. Jan.18 and return Jan. 21.
Sgt. Brian Schmautz, who has helped coordinate the trip, explained why he and others like Chief Derrick Foxworth are enthusiastic about what they see as an advantageous opportunity to educate and prepare Portland’s police force for similar events.
Rather than working with models and schematics, said Schmautz, officers will have the opportunity to work at a large scale event with other bureaus and agencies that may have more experience with events of this magnitude.
Still, Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, an organization that, as its name implies, acts as a watchdog over the Portland Police Bureau, has voiced a number of concerns.
At the council meeting, Handelman, along with Commissioner Randy Leonard, requested that the item be retracted from the consent agenda, thereby allowing the issue to be discussed before the council’s vote.
"I’m sorry to be critical on your first day here at council," Handelman said, "but this item raises multiple concerns for our organization, and, I think, many people in the community."
At the meeting, Handelman raised concerns over the cost to Portland of sending the officers to the event, as well as concerns that the undertaking lacks oversight and accountability, that the city hasn’t the resources to spare nineteen officers for that long, and that the officers could pick up habits from the other agencies that would be unsuitable and even illegal in Portland.
All five city councilors said their concerns over cost and oversight had been addressed, a few of them pointing out that the Portland Police Department could take steps to address similar concerns they share for Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI-run program that has deputized Portland police officers in an effort to crack down on terrorist activity in the region.
Though the question of finances was addressed – the city will be reimbursed in full by the FBI – concerns over accountability and insufficient resources still linger.
"As an organization, we’re not advocating having police on every street corner," Handelman told the Vanguard, but a number of community members have expressed concerns that there are not enough officers on the streets as it is.
The effect will be minuscule at most, Schmautz insists, pointing out that only one officer is being taken from one shift, in each precinct, for two days.
"One less person per precinct, per day, is basically what it comes down to," said Schmautz.
Though Portland Copwatch’s parent organization Peace and Justice Works is holding an anti-war demonstration on inauguration day, Handelman holds that their opposition is not a product of partisan politics.
Handelman, who has been an outspoken critic of the Portland Joint Terrorism task force, said that the same problems that he has with the task force apply to the Presidential Inaugural Task Force.
"Even though Commissioner Sten contrasted the two-day deputization of the officers with the full-time deputization of the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force,"
Handelman wrote to the councilors, following their vote, "the same issues of security clearance and oversight apply in this case, because the FBI is one of the agencies directing the Portland Officers in [Washington D.C.] for the President’s Inaugural Task Force."
"Who are they accountable to while they’re there?" Handelman asked.
Apparently, that is something that remains unclear, even to the Portland Police Bureau.
"I honestly don’t know the answer to that," Schmautz said.
However, Schmautz did respond to critics that have voiced concerns that the officers could pick up undesirable habits under the direction of the federal government.
"So all of a sudden, police officers are so ignorant, they’re like sponges?" Schmautz said, expressing open irritation. "I’m sure they’ll see some things that are good ideas and I’m sure they’ll see some things that are bad ideas," he continued, "but I don’t think our officers are so na퀌�ve that those practices would carry over into operations here in Portland."