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California Bill Would Restrict Police Participation in FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Feb. 26, 2020) – A bill filed in the California Assembly would require police to follow the state Constitution and state law when participating in the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Asm. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Asm. David Chiu (D-San Francisco) introduced Assembly Bill 2598 (AB2598), The California Safe Civil Rights Act, on Feb. 20. The bill would require a California law enforcement agency that participates in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to do so only in a manner that is “fully consistent with the laws of the State of California, including the agency’s own policies, procedures, and orders.”

Under current JTTF guidelines, FBI agents can open assessments and conduct intelligence gathering against anyone they choose without reasonable suspicion, which would put California law enforcement agents in violation of state law.

In its findings and declarations, AB2598 directly addresses this legal conflict:

As currently established and operated, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) do not comply with the California Constitution, laws and regulations of the state of California, or in some cases, with local ordinances, and lack the necessary transparency and civilian oversight of state and local law enforcement officials required by California law.

Last November, an internal FBI legal analysis obtained by The Intercept showed that San Francisco police officers on the JTTF were routinely given low-level assignments that would invite violations of local San Francisco law and policy. According to the report,

The document stated that the bulk of what police officers did on the San Francisco JTTF were inquiries that would typically be prohibited under SFPD rules and local law, calling into question nearly 120 operations that task force officers participated in over a three-year period.

San Francisco withdrew from the JTTF in early 2017.

“Currently, and for the past two decades, many Californians have been the targets of pervasive surveillance and harassment by the FBI and their Joint Terrorism Task Force,” said Bonta. “This bill requires state and local law enforcement to follow California laws when participating in a JTTF.”

Bonta and Chiu covered this and more in their bill:

The FBI and the JTTF have a long and troubling history of profiling individuals based on their race, religion, and national origin. For example, after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the FBI used bogus counterterrorism measures to entrap an innocent California man and wrongfully prosecute and imprison him for 14 years on terrorism-related charges based solely on his religious views and national origin. Another example involves the San Francisco office of the FBI, which investigated Black civil rights groups as terrorism threats, even without any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

The legislation would also require a California law enforcement agency to submit any proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and “any orders, policies, and procedures relevant to the subject matter of the MOU to its governing body, or the Attorney General as appropriate, for approval,” before finalizing the agreement to enter into or amend an MOU with a federal law enforcement agency regarding the agency’s participation on the JTTF.

AB2598 also includes transparency provisions, requiring law enforcement agencies to “provide by February 1 of each year, to its local governing body and to the Department of Justice a written, public report about its activities in the JTTF between January 1 and December 31 of the prior year that contains specified information, including, among other things, the number of local law enforcement officers assigned to the JTTF and the funding source. ”

The bill would require the Attorney General to post all of the reports on its internet website, without any redaction.

Law enforcement groups told local news media “they’re still reviewing the legislation.” Bonta said he expects them to put up a fight.

“I look forward to the opportunity to make my case why this bill shouldn’t concern them but I’m not naive to where they’re likely to be,” Bonta said.

WHAT’S NEXT

AB2598 will first be assigned to a committee, where it can be heard on or after Mar. 22. It will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.


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