"Drug-Free Zones" Renewal Postponed
As regular readers know, people who police "reasonably suspect" of committing any of a number of drug or prostitution crimes in the designated zones can be excluded from those areas of the City for 90 days upon "arrest" (which currently includes citation-in-lieu-of-arrest [getting a ticket]) and one year upon conviction. The only way to appeal the exclusion is to file within 10 business days (extended to 15 in the new draft) and have an "administrative hearings officer" determine if the police had enough evidence to exclude you.
The Mayor scheduled three public forums on the exclusion zones, the first of which was held at Emmanuel Temple in North Portland on November 1. A racially diverse crowd was polled as to how many thought the Zones were a useful tool (about 1/4), how many thought the zones should be revised (about 30%) and how many thought they should be eliminated (about 45%). In other words, 3/4 of people want the Zones modified or gone.
The major hurdle for many, including the Boise Neighborhood Association, which sent a follow-up letter after endorsing the Zones outright, is the fact that even if the charges are never pursued in court or if a person is found not guilty, the exclusion remains.
While Potter is trying to tie the exclusions to convictions, the Portland Business Alliance is pushing a "compromise" version of the Zones, which would allow for an automatic review by a hearings officer for every exclusion. While this idea is better than the current requirement for a person to actively challenge their own ticket, it is not an acceptable "check and balance" since the reviewer is, like the police, part of the executive, not the judicial branch of government. As one person put it at the November forum, it still essentially leaves the police in the position of "judge, jury and executioner."
Despite the fact that basic constitutional questions of freedom of association and travel are curbed by the laws, cries are going up from the business community that the world is ending. (These are the same folks who feared Armageddon when Portland withdrew from the Joint Terrorism Task Force.) The Oregonian editorialized that Potter should not tinker with laws that have already been rewritten several times, for fear of their being "improved out of existence" (November 13). The ever-more-cop-friendly Portland Tribune buried legal objections to the Zones 35 paragraphs into its three-page, front cover story, though the headline reads "Police swear by city's novel 'drug-free' areas, but opponents remain resolute" (November 8). East Precinct Commander Mike Crebs told the Parkrose Business Community the Zones are a useful tool but "sometimes road blocks from residents or groups of citizens makes [sic] our job more difficult" (Mid-County Memo, November 2005). Deputy D.A. Jim Hayden, godfather of the DFZs, worried that changes would land the city back in court, and that his office "couldn't possibly prosecute every exclusion case" (Oregonian, November 4).
It thus appears that the DFZs were always meant as a tool, like the Sit/Lie ordinance, to move people around without the pesky problem of actually finding them guilty of any crimes. (This is even more evident as the police have only ticketed a few people for "sidewalk obstructions" but are not keeping track of how many sit/lie warning cards they hand out.)
Aside from the public defender's office, some of the most important work challenging the Zones has come from the ACLU of Oregon and the Western Prison Project. The ACLU's Andrea Meyer was invited to give an alternative viewpoint at the public forum, albeit for 10 minutes to the City's forty-five minutes. The ACLU thinks exclusions should be given by a judge as a condition of pre- trial release or upon conviction, but not by a police officer on the street.
A second forum, held downtown on December 1, had similar results; roughly 2/3 were for eliminating or changing the Zones, the City's presentation was far longer than opponents', and some great comments were voiced. Lawyer Steven Berman noted that the Portland Business Alliance does not speak for all downtown business-people. Referring to the City's claim that the Zones have met constitutional challenges in court, he said "What is constitutional and what is right aren't always the same."
The final voice at the November forum was Cassandra Villanueva, a young Latina, who stated she did not want to continue living in a part of the City (the North Zone) where access to the judicial process is a privilege and not a right.
A new version of the ordinance will be voted on sometime before February 2.
For more information or to get involved: ACLU of Oregon 503-227-3186 or
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