People's Police Report
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Joint Terrorism Task Force: As First Council Report Approaches, New Information Supports Staying Out
Aside from the publication of the Police Bureau's Directive on the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), the Bureau's Annual Report and stories about a man who had his guns taken away, the people of Portland have heard little about the connection-- if any-- between Portland Police and the JTTF since the City withdrew its two officers in early 2019 (PPRs #77 & 78). However, information rolling in from other cities and sources indicates Portland's decision to stay out was a good one. A document surfaced in San Francisco revealing the FBI misled their City Council and, in fact, were having officers skirt local laws to work on investigations which were not based on suspicion of criminal conduct (The Intercept, November 1). Oregon has a similar law which led in part to Portland's withdrawal. An article published October 31 by the Marshall Project points out that in addition to Portland, two other Police departments pulled officers out of federal task forces in 2019 because their local cops would no longer be able to be held to local standards. A report from Defending Rights and Dissent delves into how the FBI continues to spy on people expressing opposition to US policies, with a short chapter on JTTFs including info about Portland's withdrawal. And more information came out about federal spying in the Oregon coastal area of Coos Bay.
Here are some updates on spying-related issues:
--The Bureau's Directive on how officers can interact with the JTTF was put out for a second set of comments in early September. The new draft included a fix proposed by Portland Copwatch to ensure officers will act in compliance with state law, but not other proposals trying to enable oversight of the FBI's training materials.
--The PPB's Annual Report, which was finally presented to Council on October 2 (see DOJ article), revealed the only time the Portland Police worked with the JTTF in 2018 was tracking the paraplegic man who threatened to throw a Molotov cocktail at Mayor Ted Wheeler's house (PPR #77).
--The FBI seized weapons from alt-right protestor Shane Kohfield, a military veteran who threatened to kill anti-fascist activists while protesting outside Wheeler's home in July. The PPB was clearly involved in this case, opening a "threat investigation" on Kohfield and helping Clackamas County Deputy (and JTTF member) Jeremy Stinson get a year-long protection order in place which required Kohfield to surrender four weapons he owned (Oregonian, September 1). This is a rare case of the FBI taking action against a right-wing activist, and should not be taken as an indication the PPB's ability to work with the JTTF on a case by case basis will only be used for such potentially productive enforcement.
--The two other agencies which pulled out of task forces were both the results of the US government not allowing local officers to wear bodycams: the St. Paul and Atlanta police got out of Federal Marshals' task forces, with Atlanta doing so after one of their officers shot an unarmed man while working with the feds.
Meanwhile, more damning news came out about the South West Oregon Joint Task Force, formed to spy on activists opposing a proposed gas pipeline in the Coos Bay area (PPR #78). On September 24, over 40 environmental organizations sent a letter to Governor Kate Brown calling on her to stop the surveillance. On October 2, the Guardian revealed Oregon's "Titan Fusion Center," which is a project similar to JTTFs set up in every state to "track terrorism," helped disseminate information about activists opposed to the pipeline.
In other spying news, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is helping Portland examine the possibility of banning all facial recognition technology not just for law enforcement, but also for private use. The ban would be based mostly on the technology's poor track record for identifying women and people of color. While Portland officers don't universally have body cameras yet, Oregon state law already bans the coupling of bodycams to facial recognition.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.