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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

My thoughts on why Portland should stay out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force

This is not an easy decision.

I do not dismiss the threat of terrorism – I once tried a case in the courthouse next to the Oklahoma City Federal building that was blown up by domestic terrorists. And I think that in the abstract, the idea of local law enforcement, with their broader knowledge the community, working with the FBI is a good one.

I do not think we should make decisions about working with the FBI now based on how bad J. Edgar Hoover was.

I have met with the local Special Agent in Charge, Greg Bretzing, and his leadership team, and I think they are good, well-intentioned people.

I was impressed by the argument that if we have police in the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), they are in a position to raise concerns about FBI operations that seem inconsistent with Portland values. And I very much appreciate the Mayor’s statement about the conversation he would have and the instruction he would give to officers participating in the JTTF.

In short, I think there are good arguments for joining the JTTF.

But I also think there is a strong argument against joining the JTTF.

One of the main arguments for the value of having the Portland police in the JTTF is that the police have a broader knowledge of our community and the stronger relationships in our community than the FBI.

But we have heard from representatives of some communities in our city that joining the JTTF would weaken the relationship that they have with the police, and formally leaving the JTTF would strengthen those relationships.

We received a letter recently from a number of groups with Muslim constituencies expressing their concerns. The letter was signed by the Islamic Center of Portland, Islamic Society of Greater Portland, Muslim Community Center of Portland, Bosniaks Education and Cultural Organization, Oregon Muslim Citizens Alliance, Islamic Community Center of Hillsboro, Oregon Islamic Champlain’s Organization, Muslim Educational Trust, and Islamic Social Services of Oregon State. I encourage you to read the letter in its entirety: READ HERE.

Now, I know that not all Muslims in Portland feel the same way. We received a letter from the Somali American Council of Oregon urging us to join the JTTF.

And I am sure the FBI would take issue with some aspects of the Muslim coalition’s description of the FBI’s activities.

But I cannot ignore the fact that the leaders of numerous organizations in the Muslim community say that many Muslims do not trust the FBI and would trust the Portland police less if we joined the JTTF. I do not want to take the risk that people might not warn us of real potential threats because they don’t trust us.

I am also encouraged by the message that these Muslim and Arab leaders are interested in reviving American Muslim Police Advisory Committee (AMPAC), especially if we withdraw from JTTF. And I think we should take them up on that, and hope that can happen even if we join the JTTF.
If my view had prevailed today, I do not think it would have had to be the last time we considered this issue. As I said, I was impressed by Special Agent in Charge Bretzing, and I expect that he will work to improve relations with communities throughout Portland, including the Arab and Muslim communities. It may be that a year or two down the road, there would not be such community concern about joining the JTTF.

And again, I do not think this is an easy decision. I have been making calls and reading letters on this issue up to the last minute. Just this morning, I called Laura Dugan, a University of Maryland criminologist (and former colleague of my wife’s) and a member of the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism. She told me that other things being equal, participating in the JTTF would be a good idea, but when I told her about the concerns raised by members of the Muslim community, she said that those relationships are very important and those concerns have to be taken seriously. She added that regardless of whether we formally participate in the JTTF, we could do emergency preparedness drills with the FBI; she said that in Boston, local law enforcement’s history of engaging in such drills was a key factor in the effective response to the Boston Marathon attack.

Again, I very much appreciate the approach the Mayor is taking to membership in the JTTF. But I respectfully vote Nay.