The Multnomah County Prosecutor's Office will soon request that City Council expand the "Drug Free Zones" to include a large portion of Concordia. Deputy District Attorney Jim Hayden presented his proposal to the neighborhood association at the January 5 general meeting. Many community members, including myself, voiced their concerns and disapproval of this expansion. The Concordia Neighborhood Association will vote on their recommendation to City Council at the February 2 meeting at the Kennedy School. Neighbors at the meeting requested that I write about the negative aspects of this proposal.
Drug Free Zone exclusions are issued one of three ways:
1) A Portland Police Officer may issue an exclusion to a person whom they believe has committed a drug related offense. These police issued exclusions last 90 days and take effect 7 days after they are issued.
2) The court issues exclusions as a condition of probation or diversion in drug related offenses. Notice of this exclusion is served in court. These exclusions take effect at the time they are served. (Thus, the individual is subject to arrest on the way home from the courthouse, which is, of course, located within the DFZ.)
3) Upon conviction for a drug related offense by operation of the Portland City Code the convicted person is automatically excluded from all Drug Free Zones in the city. These exclusions also take effect at the time they are issued in court.
Variances are issued at the discretion of the police for the following purposes only:
1) An excluded person who lives in the DFZ may obtain a variance allowing them to enter the DFZ to go to their home. The variance outlines the specific route the excluded person is allowed to travel from the edge of the DFZ to their doorstep.
2) An excluded person who works within the DFZ may apply for a variance allowing them to travel to and from work (this variance will probably not allow the excluded person to leave work over the lunch hour).
3) An excluded person who utilizes social service agencies (note: most substance abuse treatment programs, mental health clinics and probation offices, not to mention the courthouse and TRI-MET are located within DFZs) may apply for a variance to allow them to attend appointments at these agencies. Written documentation of involvement with these agencies is required. An excluded person has no right to a variance. Variances are issued by the police at their discretion.An excluded individual cannot obtain a variance, and therefore cannot legally shop at any business within the DFZ, visit a friend or family member who lives within the DFZ, or so much as drive through any portion of the DFZ to arrive at any destination outside the DFZ. Those individuals who live in the DFZ and are excluded may not return to their residence without first obtaining a variance at the police precinct. Such a variance will give a specific route from the excluded person's doorstep to the edge of the DFZ. When an excluded person leaves their house, they must travel by that route directly out of the DFZ, stopping only to obey traffic signals. They cannot legally visit a neighbor, stop for gas, run to the store or any other type of business. They cannot even walk their dog. Needless to say, it is impossible for an excluded person to live in the DFZ and take care of their daily business without being subject to arrest.
At the January 5, CNA meeting community members expressed their frustration with police officers targeting their family members who, according to certain stereotypes, look like criminals (most often young black men). People expressed concern that enforcement of the DFZ will result in more frequent stops of these innocent people.
Questions we must ask ourselves:
What is the nature of the drug problem we seek to solve?
Is an expansion of the Drug Free Zone an effective and reasonable solution to that problem?
Do we want the police to be the only ones who may exercise discretion?
What is the cost to our community both financially and socially?
Is there a better solution that is more narrowly tailored to meet community needs?
Kelly Skye, who lives in the Concordia Neighborhood, is an attorney with the Metropolitan Public Defenders.
Info on previous Drug Free Zone Expansion in Feb. 1997
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