SFPD wants to keep its FBI ties covert 

click to enlarge A bill passed by the Board of Supervisors would require the San Francisco Police Department to share more information about its work with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • A bill passed by the Board of Supervisors would require the San Francisco Police Department to share more information about its work with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Police Chief Greg Suhr said Tuesday he wants the mayor to veto legislation that would open up to public scrutiny the department’s working relationship with the FBI’s counterterrorism unit.

Suhr said the bill, passed Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, would jeopardize the Police Department’s presence “in the room” of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which provides valuable crime-fighting information.

“We do not support it,” Suhr said.  

The existing agreement between police and the FBI will come up for renewal at some point. If it can’t be amended to meet the demands as a result of the law, the department could lose access to the task force, Suhr said.

Last year, he said his department followed up on 2,000 task force tips.

But John Crew of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said Suhr is simply afraid of the unknown. Crew said Portland, Ore., allows similar public access to its counterterrorism efforts by operating without an agreement with the task force, and it still has access to the same information.   

The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim, stems from the discovery of a 2007 agreement “that would have allowed police officers to conduct secret investigations without reasonable suspicion.”

Kim’s measure also would require police to adhere to local and state privacy laws when assisting with federal counterterrorism investigations, which supporters of the law say local cops do, but it should still be codified.

The legislation was approved in a 6-5 vote. Eight votes are needed to protect it from a mayoral veto. Lee said he has yet to make up his mind.

Supervisors Scott Wiener, Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, Malia Cohen and Mark Farrell opposed the legislation.

The proposal is politically sensitive since the board is using legislation to tell the Police Department how to conduct its business.

“The question for me is, ‘Does this need to be legislated?’ I don’t think it does,” Wiener said.  

Supervisor John Avalos said “The City has a responsibility” to do everything it can to ensure “our policing efforts around counterterrorism are transparent.”

In an effort to win over Suhr, Kim eliminated the provision that urged him to amend the existing agreement, which failed to sway the police chief.

The board is expected to take a final vote next week; then Lee has 10 days to decide whether to veto it.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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