FOR WEEKS, residents have been told—in meetings, on Mayor Sam Adams' website, and in news reports—that a decision on whether Portland should re-embed its cops in an FBI-led terrorism task force would finally come this Thursday, February 24.
But in a familiar pattern for Portland— after soliciting endless feedback from residents, experts, and "stakeholders"—a real decision on the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) will have to wait. Thursday's meeting is still on, but Adams and other city sources have signaled that, instead, commissioners need to hunt longer for their favorite political word: "consensus."
UPDATE FEB. 23: Partly because of the threat of snow, but also because the mayor needed more time before the hearing to craft a proposal on moving forward, Thursday's hearing has now been postponed until March 10.
On its face, that's worrisome. Consider some recent examples of slowdown policy-making decried by various activists and advocates: languishing proposals to further increase civilian oversight of the police bureau; the courts-tangled River Plan; and talks to redevelop the Rose Quarter, recently sent back to the kitchen once the council finally settled on the fate of Memorial Coliseum.
But this time? It might—might—be a good thing.
The JTTF debate's been rolling only for the past two months. By taking just a while longer to digest what's been an informative, vigorous debate, commissioners might manage to settle the issue without blindly hopping back in bed with the FBI (and running the risk that Portland cops will violate Oregon's strict civil liberties laws) or leaving themselves vulnerable to accusations that they've left us open to terror attacks.
Under a scenario insiders say is extremely likely, commissioners will weigh whether they should keep negotiating with the FBI, demanding as many concessions as possible on oversight and civil liberties. Only then would they make a final call. The feds, who dispatched high-level apparatchiks to Portland for a recent hearing, appear eager to play along, hungry for a deal that returns Portland to the fold.
Using those talks to extract, say, top-secret clearance for Adams—a rare but not unprecedented step that lets him monitor his officers—would convince many skeptics that public safety wouldn't come at the expense of the law.
Or, in a best-case scenario, the talks could provide good-faith cover for rejecting the FBI—an agency that remains mired in dubious investigations of peace activists and other Americans who hardly qualify as "terrorists." That would leave intact our current arrangement with the feds, in which cops join terror probes only when needed.
The outcome, as always, will swing on Adams, Nick Fish, and Amanda Fritz. Randy Leonard is loath to permanently pull cops off local crimes, while Dan Saltzman still favors rejoining. And soon.
No one wants this to drag out. But if making the right call requires a little diligence, then so be it.