Portland considers rejoining Joint Terrorism Task Force��

About 200 Portland citizens gathered in Portland State’s Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom last Friday to discuss the possibility of Portland rejoining the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

About 200 Portland citizens gathered in Portland State’s Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom last Friday to discuss the possibility of Portland rejoining the Joint Terrorism Task Force. 

Portland withdrew from the task force in 2005, but questions of rejoining have come up in light of the alleged plot to bomb Pioneer Courthouse Square during the city’s tree lighting ceremony last November.

Mayor Sam Adams led a question and comment session from the audience, insisting that there be no booing or clapping in an effort to have a respectful discussion. “Tonight is not about making decisions; tonight is about making sure we’re asking the right questions,” Adams said.  

City Council member Randy Leonard, who was a member of the council when the decision to withdraw from the JTTF was made, asked a question that many in the audience shared.  

“What would have been different in the handling of that incident [at Pioneer Square] had we been members of the JTTF?” he said.  

The first Portlander to speak, who was a member of the Citizens Crime Commission, said they are supportive of Portland rejoining the task force because they believe it’s important for the police to have as many resources as they can to protect the community through the collaborative resources the JTTF brings.  

Some at the forum indicated that they felt the handling of the potential bomb threat could be viewed as a success, and that it did not signify the need for rejoining the JTTF. 

In fact, many attendees spoke of being deeply concerned that rejoining the task force would threaten the relationship between Portland police and Portland citizens.  

According to local attorney Hala Gores, over the past several years the relationship between Portland’s Arab-American community and the police department has been strengthened. 

“Bridges have been built; there is a relationship of trust there,” Gores said.  

However, the relationship between the Arab-American community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is exactly the opposite, according to Gores.

Like many Portlanders at the forum, Gores expressed fear that rejoining the JTTF would be a threat to residents’ civil liberties.  

“What do we gain by joining the JTTF? It seems to me that in light of the Christmas tree lighting threat that the system worked and the threat was averted,” said one audience member.

Forum participant Mike Smith expressed concern over the FBI’s tactics in apprehending the bomb suspect.

“I miss the days when terrorists had to make their own bombs,” Smith said.  

Attorney Brandon Mayfield, who was falsely arrested and detained for two weeks in 2004 by the FBI, also attended the forum. He said he believes Portland should not join the task force because local police must adhere to state statutes that protect citizens’ privacy. The FBI, according to Mayfield, would not have to do so.

Mayfield also thanked the council for holding the discussion forum.  

“We need some dissent sometimes,” he said. “If everyone agrees, I get scared and so we need to discuss it.”

After the question session, the Office of the City Attorney gave a presentation in an attempt to answer questions before the group broke off into small group discussions.  

The forum was the first regarding the JTTF, and an attempt by the city council to hear Portlanders’ perspectives on the task force before moving forward with hearings.  

Portland is currently the only major city in the country not participating in the JTTF.

According to Adams, the City Council will have a hearing at the end of February to make a final decision on rejoining the JTTF. At that time, there will be a public hearing as well. ?