New York Times
November 21, 2001
A Police Force Rebuffs F.B.I. on Querying Mideast Men
By Fox Butterfield
The Portland, Ore., police will not cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its efforts to interview 5,000 young Middle Eastern men nationwide because such questioning violates state law, the department's acting police chief, Andrew Kirkland, said yesterday.
The decision is the first known case of a city's refusing to go along with the antiterrorism effort, which was announced last week by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
But top police officials in several other cities have also said that Mr. Ashcroft's plan raises troubling questions about racial profiling — an issue that has brought endless grief to police departments nationwide — and may violate local and state laws about issues like intelligence gathering for political purposes.
Charles Gorder, an assistant United States attorney in Portland, said he could not comment on the decision by the police. But Mr. Gorder, who is coordinator of the local F.B.I. joint terrorism task force, said, "We will get the interviews done," suggesting that F.B.I. agents would do the questioning themselves. "We do not think there any violations of state or federal law," Mr. Gorder added.
Acting Chief Kirkland said the United States attorney's office in Portland asked the police last Thursday to help with interviews of young Middle Eastern men in the city, sending along a list of 200 names. He said he quickly decided not to cooperate.
"I didn't have to think too long about it," Mr. Kirkland said yesterday in a telephone interview. "We're not going to do it."
Mr. Kirkland said Oregon law prohibited the local police from questioning immigrants when they were not suspected of any crime and the only issue under discussion was their foreign citizenship.
"If the F.B.I. has something specific about a crime they are investigating, or a potential crime that these people might commit, then we would reconsider," said Mr. Kirkland, an assistant chief who is Portland's acting chief this week while Chief Mark Kroeker is on vacation.
But the F.B.I. list, he said, contained "no specifics" about what crimes the 5,000 men might be involved with, saying only that they had come to this country in the last two years on student, tourist or business visas from countries with suspected terrorist links. The department also received a list of questions about the men's activities and knowledge of terrorist groups, he said.
Portland has a large immigrant population, and Acting Chief Kirkland said the city had historically passed through periods when immigrants were targets of political and police persecution.
Mr. Kirkland, who is black, said his own background had also played a role in his decision. "I grew up in Detroit," he said, "and I hated the police with a passion. They were always stopping and bothering me."
F.B.I. agents began interviewing some of the 5,000 men late last week, but there are so many on the list that Mr. Ashcroft has asked local police forces around the nation to conduct many of the interviews themselves, so they can be completed within 30 days. Despite his sense of urgency, a number of major city police departments said they had not yet been officially contacted by the F.B.I. or the Justice Department. Those cities include Baltimore, Minneapolis, Tucson and Seattle, police officials said.
In Seattle, the police chief, Gil Kerlikowske, said that he had not received a formal request for help but that he had contacted the local F.B.I. office himself and was told the bureau was interested in questioning fewer than two dozen men in Seattle. Since the number was small, Chief Kerlikowske said, the F.B.I. might be doing all the interviews itself.
"I think for police departments this is an incredibly sensitive problem," the chief said. "On the one hand, we don't want to harm relationships with community members that we have worked hard for years to build. We depend on information that these people bring to us when they come to trust us."
"On the other hand," he said, "we want to track down the terrorists. So it is a Hobson's choice. We'd like to be able to help the F.B.I., and we know the local community in a way they don't."
But before he could have his officers conduct such interviews, Chief Kerlikowske said, he would have to review an ordinance prohibiting investigations to determine a person's political or religious thinking.
In Ann Arbor, Mich., the police chief, Daniel Oates, also expressed reservations, saying he had not yet been contacted about the interviews. Because the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has international students who might be on the list, Chief Oates said, "I have questions about the propriety of this."
How, he asked, "does someone end up on this list?"
Copyright © 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.
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