Dear Portland Residents:
The District Attorney and the PPB want desperately to expand the Drug Free Zones (DFZs) into all of North East Portland. The last few neighborhood associations are voting on their position in late January and early February 1999. It is expected that this proposal will be before City Council by the end of February. Please do what you can to oppose this creeping--no, creepy-- infringement of civil rights!
The following piece was written by an attorney with the Metropolitan Public Defenders who lives in the Concordia Neighborhood. Concordia's meeting is on February 2.
--Dan Handelman
Portland Cowpatch


by Kelly Skye

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.


Once a person is excluded from the "Drug Free Zone" (hereinafter the DFZ), they cannot enter the DFZ for any reason, unless issued a variance. Variances can be obtained only at the local police precinct, which is also in the DFZ. Thus, the excluded person must violate the exclusion order and risk arrest merely to request a variance.

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.


Drug Free Zones are a "tool" of law enforcement. The DFZ ordinance allows police to stop, arrest and search any excluded person whom they catch in the DFZ, regardless of the excluded person's purpose for being there. The problem is, however, that the only way officers will know who is excluded is to stop them and run their names. In many circumstances these stops are illegal. The innocent non-excluded individual who is continuously stopped by officers has no recourse under the law.

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.


The prosecutor's office speaks of the DFZ proposal as a tool to deal with drug dealing on the street. Unfortunately, the ordinance impacts many more people than the drug dealers on the corner. The ordinance provides that anyone convicted of simple possession of a controlled substance be excluded from the DFZ for a period of one year. Further, this exclusion applies to anyone convicted regardless of where they committed their crime. The arrest need not be a street arrest. For example, a person who is arrested or convicted for Possession of More than one ounce of Marijuana that occurred in their own home will be excluded from the DFZ. A person who is arrested or convicted for a drug related crime that occurred in "Old Town" will be excluded from all of the DFZs.


Each time a person is caught violating a DFZ exclusion, they are subject to arrest for Criminal Trespass in the Second Degree, a class C misdemeanor punishable by the maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $1000 fine. Many of these cases are reduced to infractions after the defendant spends a night in jail. Thousands of these arrests result in prosecution that costs the county and state a lot of money for the small benefit of having the defendant out of the zone for the night.


People who are convicted of a drug related crime and live in or near the Drug Free Zone are punished much more harshly than people who live in more affluent communities. Those who live in or near a DFZ are excluded from their own neighborhoods, restricted from patronizing businesses in their communities and restricted from visiting friends and family. A person from the West Hills or Laurelhurst who is convicted of a drug related crime couldn't be excluded from their neighborhood.

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?

January, 1999

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
Return to Copwatch home page