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Police Seek Reauthorization of Drug Free Zones, Changes Proposed

Last week, the Portland Police Bureau informed the City Council that they will seek reauthorization of the Drug Free Zones. Portland and Multnomah County lawyers have also proposed several major changes to how the Drug Free Zones are enforced.
Last week, the Oregonian reported that the Police Bureau informed the City Council that they will seek reauthorization of the Drug Free Zones, which will expire on October 8th. They must be reauthorized every three years, with a 90- day notice. No date has yet been set for City Council consideration.

The Oregonian also reported that last week, in response to recent weakening of the Drug Free Zones due to a court case, Portland City lawyers and the Multnomah County District Attorney's office have proposed several major changes to how the Drug Free Zones are enforced. The court case, State v. Collins, was decided this February by the Oregon Court of Appeals, requiring that police officers must warn you to leave the Drug Free Zone before they arrest you. This has taken the "teeth" out of the Drug Free Zones, which has the police and some neighborhood groups worried, including the Old Town Public Safety Committee.

The proposal for changing the Drug Free Zones include:
--Limiting the area of banishment to the zone where the person was arrested, not all the zones.
--Automatically granting waivers for excluded people to travel to important destinations, like home or work, at the time the exclusion is issued (instead of forcing them to go to a police precinct to get an application which may or may not be granted).
--Creating a new enforcement mechanism to get around the State v. Collins ruling that requires warning people before they're trespassed. The new proposal would allow for people to be arrested for a new crime -the crime would be violating a variance, which would be established by City ordinance.
--The boundaries of the Drug Free Zones would be re-drawn. The Beech residential zone in North and Northeast Portland would be enlarged, while the Alberta and Woodlawn residential zones would be eliminated, because drug arrests have dropped so much there. But, the newly expanded Beech zone would still cover some of Alberta and Woodlawn. The Drug Free Zone would also be expanded to include NW 23rd and the Lloyd District.

Although the proposed changes are potentially less punitive, it will largely depend on the details of their implementation. For instance, automatic variances for vital destinations may not make much of a real difference if they are still at the full discretion of the police. And, the proposal does not mention including things like churches, transportation (the downtown Bus Mall is in a Zone), visiting loved ones, or other important destinations in the variances.

As for the new crime they propose creating, that, too, will depend on the details of its implementation. If the new crime carries a higher level of penalty than the current one, Criminal Trespass II, it could be detrimental to people who have been exluded.

There is little chance of doing away with the zones completely, especially since there are groups who like them, including the Old Town Public Safety Committee, the Central Eastside Industrial Council, and some neighborhoods in Northeast Portland who are very concerned with drug traffic in their areas. The Mayor's police liason Elise Marshall is quoted as saying "Until we get shut down, we are going to keep working on them." The Deputy District Attorney Jim Hayden is just beginning to run the new proposal by neighborhood groups.

People with opinions to voice about the Drug Free Zones should polish up their arguments, and prepare for the reauthorization process which should start any day now. Hopefully there will be a City Council hearing that public citizens can come before and suggest changes, or perhaps a written comment period. Look for updates on the City of Portland web site, at www.ci.portland.or.us.

Besides the proposed changes to the Drug Free Zone, Hayden says they're putting together a proposal for the prostitution free zones. Those zones expire even sooner, on August 3.