Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would limit the use of federal law enforcement officers for crowd control and require the officers to openly display their ID and not use unmarked vehicles while making arrests.
“I will be putting forward legislation on the Defense Authorization Act that’s on the floor of the Senate right now to try to force a debate on this and say, listen—deployment has to be limited to the federal property,” Merkley told NPR on July 18.
“You have to label who you are with, what agency you represent. You have to have a unique identifier, so if there is bad actions, you have some way of knowing who that individual was, that you cannot use unmarked vans and that if you are beyond the boundaries of federal property, you have to have the permission of the mayor or the governor,” he added.
Merkley and other Oregon lawmakers have criticized the Trump administration for sending in federal law enforcement and using unmarked vans to pick up and detain protesters on the streets of Portland, Oregon.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, confirmed on Monday that officers have been using unmarked cars to pick up protestors in Portland.
“In the one instance I’m familiar with, they believed they had identified someone who had assaulted officers or a position—a federal building there, the courthouse. Upon questioning, they determined they were—they did not have the right person, and that person was released,” Cuccinelli told NPR.
“I’m not speaking to the number of times it has happened. I’m telling you what they’re doing in terms of a process. And I fully expect that as long as people continue to be violent and to destroy property that we will attempt to identify those folks. We will pick them up in front of the courthouse. If we spot them elsewhere, we will pick them up elsewhere,” said Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli said it is the responsibility of the federal government to prevent the destruction of federal property.
“The legal justification is that they are people suspected of damaging or attacking federal personnel or property. That’s the justification. That’s the basis for jurisdiction,” added Cuccinelli.
Oregon lawmakers on July 17 demanded the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offices of Inspector General investigate the presence and what they said was “violent actions of federal forces” in Portland.
“We demand not only that these acts end, but also that they remove their forces immediately from our state. Given the egregious nature of the violations against Oregonians, we are demanding full investigations by the Inspectors General of these departments,” Merkley said in a statement.
Another bill related to curbing the power of law enforcement officers was voted down by the Senate 51-49 on Tuesday. The legislation sought to significantly scale back Pentagon transfers of surplus military gear to civilian law enforcement in the wake of nationwide protests and riots that were triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Meanwhile, other Democrats are also introducing legislation that will require federal law enforcement officers to openly wear identification when on duty.
“Federal law enforcement officers should have their identifying information displayed while on duty. This is basic. @EleanorNorton and I have introduced legislation to make it law,” said freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in a tweet Monday.
The majority of Republicans have not spoken out about federal law enforcement officers using unmarked cars to arrest Portland protestors, except Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“We cannot give up liberty for security. Local law enforcement can and should be handling these situations in our cities but there is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will,” said Paul in a tweet Monday.
President Donald Trump promised Monday to send more federal personnel to major cities that are experiencing spikes in violence and are struggling to quell it.
He named New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and potentially Oakland, California.