Illustration by Alex DeSpain

DAN HANDELMAN of Portland Copwatch found three words to dismissively sum up Police Chief Mike Reese's latest annual report tracking our cops' work with an FBI-led anti-terrorism task force.

"Copy and paste," Handelman says of the report, released Friday, March 21.

A bit of criticism from Handelman—one of the loudest and longest critics of the city's work with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)—is expected.

But he makes a solid point about an oversight document that's supposed to reassure Portlanders that our police officers, when working with the feds to investigate terrorism cases, are paying special attention to our state's strict civil rights laws.

Almost a year after two city commissioners publicly ripped Reese for turning in a report that was light on details and heavy on blanket assurances—prompting Mayor Charlie Hales to openly question the worth of working with the FBI—nothing has changed.

This year's report, which heads before the Portland City Council on Wednesday, March 26, reads like a near-verbatim copy of last year's heavily panned version.

Just like last year, Reese wrote, Portland cops worked "at least one" terrorism investigation with the JTTF. And, again, just like last year, he declined to spell out the nature of that work, even generally—while insisting that he and an unidentified city attorney are both personally satisfied the work was legal.

"Disclosure of the number of cases or hours worked may compromise ongoing investigations and reveal the operational tempo of our work on terrorism," Reese wrote, also just like last year.

All that repetition raises a question: Is city hall giving up on its insistence that Reese say more about his bureau's work with the FBI?

That appears to be the case, at least in the mayor's office.

During last year's JTTF hearing, Hales nearly voted against accepting the report, joining Commissioners Steve Novick and Amanda Fritz. He stopped short, saying the report—despite its lack of detail—answered the basic questions it was required to answer.

But his comments went well beyond the substance of the report—raising eyebrows in the federal government.

"I am very skeptical of the process of entanglement of our police bureau, which should be focused on peacekeeping in the community, with the work the FBI does in addressing global terrorism," Hales said.

Hales also reminded everyone that his was the first vote in council against the JTTF years ago. Portland eventually withdrew in 2005—only to re-engage in 2011, in the aftermath of a 2010 Christmas tree bombing plot at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Portland remains the only major American city to pull out of a JTTF.

These days, however, Hales is striking a far more conciliatory tone.

Speaking to the Mercury outside his office on Friday, March 21, just after the report came out, Hales acknowledged the new report was skimpy and practically the same as last year's. He also said that even though he might have the power to do something about that as Reese's boss, he wasn't inclined.

"I'm satisfied," Hales declared. "One, there's little engagement by the Portland Police Bureau. And two, the work that is going on between the FBI and Portland Police Bureau is appropriate... I can live with this half-baked arrangement."

The mayor did confirm one small new wrinkle in this year's report: He was denied the federal government's "secret" security clearance—putting him below Reese and the cops he's supposed to be overseeing.

Asked why he was denied, Hales blamed the FBI's former Portland boss, Gregory Fowler.

"He believed this stuff was on a need-to-know basis," Hales said. "And I didn't need to know. That was very frustrating."

The US Department of Justice, meanwhile, is minding the mayor's rhetoric very closely.

Amanda Marshall, the US attorney for Oregon, tells the Mercury she's "completely motivated" to solve what she calls a "real disconnect" between the city and the FBI "on what it is the JTTF does."

"I have offered to the mayor, personally, and to his staff, on more than one occasion," Marshall says, "to sit down and bring folks from the FBI and JTTF to try to help to build that understanding and trust, which I feel is pretty lacking."

She hopes that trust might persuade Hales to solve his "half-baked" quandary not by pulling further away from the JTTF, but by going all in. Working together on major cases, she claims, isn't as good as sharing intelligence every day.

"I know Portland likes to be weird and different," she says. "But I don't think it's worth sacrificing our safety."