After a six-year absence, the Portland, OR, police department has voted for a limited return to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (New York Times). A partnership of federal, state, and local authorities established by the Department of Justice in 2002 to coordinate anti-terrorism investigations, the JTTF includes local police departments, the FBI, CIA, the U.S. Secret service, and specialized federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Postal Inspection Service.
In 2005, Portland became the first city to withdraw from the JTTF following concerns that the initiative’s investigations infringed on suspects’ civil rights and lacked sufficient oversight. Yet Portland reconsidered its decision after federal authorities arrested suspected terrorist Mohamed Osman Mohamud this past fall for planning to detonate a bomb at a public Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Though the federal investigation had been ongoing for months, local Portland authorities were only notified shortly before the arrest.
Portland’s agreement with the JTTF will allow the city to rejoin the initiative on a restricted, “as needed” basis. The Portland police chief will retain discretion over the assignment of officers to terrorism investigations, and officers will defer to Oregon criminal procedure where it is more restrictive than comparable federal law.
Local critics worry that the decision will stir tensions between local law enforcement and Portland’s Muslim community. Yet the ACLU’s legislative director for Oregon expressed optimism, expecting Portland’s participation with the JTTF’s investigations will be the “exception, not the rule.”