Drug Free Zone Expanded: Civil Liberties at Risk 2/12/97

On Wednesday, February 12 the City Council voted to expand both the boundaries and penalties associated with the "Drug-Free Zone" (DFZ) downtown and on the east side. The Drug Free Zones are areas set up by the Portland Police and City Council with a lot of input from downtown businesses. If you are arrested for--but not convicted of--a drug offense in one of these zones, you can be issued an Exclusion Order, barring you from this part of town --or any other area declared a DFZ--for 90 days. (You can figure that the targets are usually homeless or Latino folks the cops pick on for a bit of harassment.)

The Council's vote enlarged the Zone from Old Town as far south as Clay Street and created new zones in two sizeable areas of Northeast Portland. Those actually _convicted_ of drug offenses will be excluded from the enlarged Zones for one year (the old ordinance stopped at the 90 day exclusion upon arrest.) If you work or live in the Zone, you can be given a "variance", which means you have to walk along a specific path to work or home, and if you're not on that path, you are _trespassing_.

The only Commissioner who voted to oppose the expansion was Erik Sten, who said he would support it if it applied only to people with prior offenses. This offers no protection to people whose "priors" were dummied up, and really does not change the fact that the measure violates due process by excluding people upon arrest without conviction.

With Gretchen Kafoury out of town, only two opposition votes were needed to stall this measure. Commissioner Jim Francesconi indicated he had concerns that the ordinance wouldn't stand up to "constitutional muster", but he voted for it because his fears were allayed by Mayor Katz (whose proposal this was) and others at Council, including the City Attorney's office. It is their claim that the DFZ has been challenged and has met constitutional tests.

Nobody can produce a written court decision to this effect. The closest the DFZ came to a constitutional challenge was a "motion to demur" set forth by Metro Public Defenders, citing the 14th amendment and due process issues, during a criminal case. The judge's response (provided to Copwatch by City Attorney's office) makes no challenge to the arguments, nor does it provide any constitutional analysis backing the DFZ. It simply declines the motion to demur. This does not establish a test of constitutionality.

The ACLU seems to feel strongly that the DFZ would crumble if a case ever got as far as a lawsuit on constitutional grounds.

The initial hearing, on February 5, included public testimony. The first to testify were Portland police officers, who seem to have helped author the ordinance. (This is part of an unsettling trend, blurring the lines between public servants and private citizen input, raising serious questions about police creating the laws they are going to enforce.) All but 4 of the 20 or so people testifying thought the DFZ was a good idea, and some even said it did not go far enough. But every person who complained about drugs in their neighborhood complained of their fears for themselves or their property. Not one person said that their family had been destroyed by drug addiction or drug dealing. In other words, the families whose members would be directly affected by this ordinance (and forced to stay out of their own neighborhood) did not come forward. Were they even invited?

It's imperative that the City Council receive a clear message that handing over broad exclusionary powers to the police is not a good thing, or else downtown may soon be all-white and all-shoppers.

If you're so inclined,

please contact the Council members regarding this issue

(it is particularly important to remind Sten and Francesconi of the unconstitutionality of giving the exclusion prior to convicting someone--no due process). But remember--this law has now been passed, and someone has to bring it up again to get rid of it.

(Thanks to Clayton for helping to pull this info together)

Portland, Oregon City Council
(all mail addresses are: 1400 SW 5th Ave 97204)
:Mayor Vera Katz (mayorkatz@ci.portland.or.us)
Rm 501 Ph 823-4120, fax 823-3588
:Commish Jim Francesconi (jfrancesconi@ci.portland.or.us)
Rm 703 Ph 823-3008, fax 823-3017
:Comish Charlie Hales (hales@europa.com)
Rm 701 Ph 823-4681, fax 823-4040
:Comish Gretchen Kafoury
(note that Kafoury is on vacation until Feb 26, and cannot make a proxy vote)
Rm 704 Ph 823-4151, fax 823-3036
:Comish Erik Sten (Esten@ci.portland.or.us)
Rm 702 Ph 823-3589, fax 823-3696

For more information call us:
Portland Copwatch
(503) 236-3065

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This page updated February 12, 1997