With the inauguration of President Donald Trump, monitoring the connection between the FBI and local police departments has become more important than ever before. The San Francisco Police Department has partnered with the FBI as a Joint Terrorism Task Force since 2007, to gather intelligence on such activities in the city as political assemblies, protests, and religious ceremonies. Civil rights groups raised reasonable concerns that the First Amendment rights of residents were being violated by some of the work of the task force, and in 2012, a coalition that BORDC helped form led the campaign for the passage of the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance.
The ordinance provides parameters for how the San Francisco Police Department can interact with the FBI in performing task force functions. For example, it states that, under all circumstances, the Police Department must follow city and states rules. If federal law differs, the city or state law has priority. This includes the San Francisco Sanctuary City Ordinance, which limits the ways in which city employees can cooperate with federal immigration agents. In San Francisco, police and municipal employees cannot inquire about someone’s immigration status. Although President Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25, denying federal grant funds to sanctuary cities, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has declared, “Our city is still a sanctuary city and we are going to remain a sanctuary city.”
The Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance was created to ensure that the police do not violate the Constitution when working with the FBI on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. It ensures that police do not assist the FBI in any way that would violate a person’s civil rights or right to privacy. It ensures that the police force is not being used to further possibly illegal federal actions. For example, the Police Department can only participate in a task force investigation—such as, for example, infiltrating a Mosque or activist group—if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, unlike the FBI, which is allowed to launch an investigation that includes surveillance and infiltration without any evidence of wrongdoing.
If the phrase “possibly illegal federal actions” made you think of Donald Trump, you’re on the right track. Civil rights groups are more concerned about police participation in FBI investigations under the Trump administration than ever before, especially since they have learned that police officers acting in conjunction with the Joint Terrorism Task Force may not have been properly trained in the specifics of the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus sent a letter on Jan. 5 to the San Francisco Police Department, the mayor of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Police Commission, requesting stricter oversight of Joint Terrorism Task Force activities that involve the police, knowing that, in the age of Trump, the scrutiny of communities that are already frequently surveilled will only increase.
And we’ll be there, to help cities maintain oversight and to protect the civil rights of their residents.