Posted by Guest on February 13, 2017 in Blog

By Kelly Russo

In the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, concerns that the Trump administration will continue to violate the first amendment rights of Arab American and American Muslims have risen exponentially. Civil liberties groups and activists have been prompting decisiveness from local governments and politicians alike. Last week, at the urging of the Asian Law Caucus, CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area office, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, and the ACLU of Northern California, the San Francisco Police Force (SFPD) has decided to suspend its contract with the FBI’s controversial Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF),--putting the concerns of their citizens at the forefront of their decisions. 

Although the SFPD stated the decision was simply respecting the ten-year limit to the contract they signed with the JTTF in 2007, they terminated cooperation a full month before the contract was set to expire. Although it is possible that the SFPD will re-enter their contract with the JTTF, they must gain approval from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and renegotiate the terms of their contract in order to do so.

This issue was first brought to the attention of the local government by an ordinance proposed in  2012 by Supervisor Jane Kim, which stipulated that FBI agents should have to comply with local police regulations, which were more strict than those governing the FBI. Although the Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance, the Mayor refused to sign it. Not to be deterred, Kim created a new version of the ordinance that allowed for references to existing local intelligence gathering policies, but also required the police force to gather a report on the activity of the JTTF in the city.

Although the mayor signed this version, he was unwilling to reveal detailed reports of JTTF activities when asked to do so by civil rights groups shortly after the election of Donald Trump. Under pressure to take a stance on the JTTF, they finally decided to suspend the contract. As tensions remain high following the President’s controversial EOs on immigration and sanctuary cities, it remains unlikely that they will attempt to reenter the contract. The President’s blatant disregard for the limits of his constitutional authority ensures that civil liberties groups will be on high alert for the next four years. 

In the past, the JTTF has had a tumultuous relationship with the public and activists since its creation in 1980. Although its formal purpose is to prevent terrorist activities by coordinating efforts with local, state, and federal government, the JTTF has frequently abused its power. It utilized its inherently secret nature to build profiles on peaceful political activists and to intimidate dissenters in the past and avoid transparency. Documents obtained from an ACLU court case showed that the JTTF violated the constitutionally protected right to disagree with the government, even in cases that had no correlation to concerns of terrorism.

There is hope that with the suspension of the SFPD’s relationship with the JTTF, trust between the people of San Francisco and the police force will be restored, but only with continued transparency and communication between the law enforcement and the people. However, things appear to be looking up, as the Police Chief stated, “When that confidence is shaken, we have to slow down for a minute and make sure that the public sees us as an organization that they can trust."


Kelly Russo is a Spring 2017 external intern at the Brookings Institute