Incoming city Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty wants to pull Portland out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. We respectfully disagree. But even more to the point, we wonder why this issue should rise to the top of Portland's to-do list as a new City Council prepares to take office in 2019.
Following the November election, the balance of power on the City Council will shift to the left, as Hardesty replaces longtime Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
Hardesty made the terrorism task force a campaign issue in the fall, saying she wanted to get the city out of the cooperative arrangement because it could conflict with Portland's status as a sanctuary city for immigrants.
The Joint Terrorism Task Force includes seven local law enforcement agencies that share information about both domestic and international terrorist threats in Oregon. Two Portland police officers work closely with the FBI as part of the task force.
Hardesty is concerned about the potential for Portland police to become involved in immigration matters, which would clash with city and state rules that leave immigration enforcement to the federal government. She vowed in her campaign to push, as her first act in office, to remove Portland from the JTTF.
However, Hardesty's concern about immigration enforcement was answered well by FBI Special Agent In Charge Renn Cannon during a recent interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting. Cannon pointed out that the JTTF doesn't enforce immigration laws unless there is a potential terrorism connection.
"If somebody asks me, can you guarantee the JTTF will never be involved in an immigration arrest, no I can't guarantee that," Cannon told OPB Radio. "What I can tell you is it's exceedingly rare here in Oregon. And what I can also say is: I can guarantee that the Portland police on the JTTF are not involved in immigration enforcement."
Given these assurances, which have been echoed by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, we see no conflict between JTTF participation and state and city policies regarding treatment of immigrants. The city has been in and out of the JTTF over the past two decades, with little visible effect on everyday life in Portland.
In fact, most Portlanders have other things on their minds:
• The growing problem of homelessness as well as the
effect that urban camping has on livability, health and sanitation throughout the city. Just this week, an annual report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed that Oregon has the second-highest rate of homelessness (after California) in the nation.
• The escalating price of housing in Portland, and the gap between what people earn and what it costs to live in the city.
• Freeway and road congestion and streets filled with potholes.
These quality-of-life issues aggravate Portlanders each day. In contrast, they probably think of the JTTF only on the extraordinarily rare occasion when an actual or perceived terrorist threat is identified.
At this point, there's probably no avoiding public hearings on whether Portland should stay in the JTTF. But as the incoming City Council prepares for the new year, it should keep its focus on more basic matters. A good place to start would be with a realistic and sustained campaign to move people off the streets and into more humane housing.
Terrorism is an extreme example of a public safety issue, but Portlanders have much more immediate concerns — including the everyday safety and comfort of their streets, parks and neighborhoods.
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