North Northeast Drug-Free Zone Could Grow !

North Northeast Drug-Free Zone Could Grow !
Posted by FoM on January 07, 1999 at 20:48:44 PT

Police and prosecutors, hoping to bring relief to a community plagued by street-level drug dealing, want to create a new, expanded drug-free zone stretching 4.26 square miles in North and Northeast Portland. 
Proponents say the area, which would incorporate two current zones, would cut down on drug activity that is substantially higher than elsewhere in the city The proposal for the new zone, which would envelop two existing zones and parts of at least six neighborhoods, could go to the Portland City Council for a vote as early as February. "No one's here to tell anybody that drug-free zones solve the problem, but they are tools to bring relief to the neighborhoods," said Jim Hayden, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney, addressing community representatives Monday. "We want to make it more difficult for people to stand there on the corner and deal drugs." Under the city's drug-free ordinance, people charged with possession or distribution of drugs in a particular area can be excluded from the zone for 90 days, which may increase to a year if convicted. If they return to the zone during the exclusion period, they can be arrested for trespassing. Portland currently has four drug-free zones including downtown/Old Town, the inner eastside and Northeast Portland's Beech and Alberta neighborhoods. The city also has four prostitution-free zones that operate under the same principle. The first drug-free zones were identified in 1992, and Beech and Alberta were added in February 1997. By incorporating the Beech and Alberta zones in a larger North/Northeast zone, police and prosecutors think the drug-zone enforcement will be more effective. Drug activity in the neighborhoods within the larger boundary continues to be "substantially higher" than in other parts of the city, Hayden said. For example, police made 847 narcotics-possession arrests in the proposed zone between February 1997 and February 1998; compared to 107 narcotics-possession arrests in the inner eastside exclusionary zone during the same period. "Right now, we have all these little islands in that area," he said. "We thought, 'Why don't we draw one larger area.' " The drug ordinance has not been without controversy. It has received mixed reviews from residents and was dealt a legal blow in April 1997, when a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled that it violated state and federal constitutions both by excluding suspects from a city area and criminally prosecuting them. To do so, the judge ruled, was punishing a suspect twice for the same offense. The state attorney general's office has appealed that decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which has yet to rule. Prosecutors have continued to use the ordinance but have altered their enforcement to avoid further court challenges. Now, prosecutors offer suspects arrested on charges of minor drug possession an immediate plea deal: a reduced sentence for a promise to stay out of the drug-free zones for one year. George McKeever, manager of a 30-unit, federally subsidized apartment building in the Eliot neighborhood, which would be included in the expanded zone, supports the move. His tenants, he said, have mental disabilities and continually are victimized by drug dealers who get arrested and keep returning to the area. But some consider the exclusion zones an infringement on citizens' rights and question whether police might abuse their authority. Betty Hedberg, chairwoman of the crime prevention committee of Southwest Neighborhood Inc., a coalition of several neighborhoods, thinks the exclusion zones just create problems elsewhere in the city. She says that is the case in some Southwest Portland neighborhoods. "Experience has shown with drug- or prostitution-free zones that it doesn't cure the problem, it just moves it elsewhere," Hedberg said. Hayden acknowledged that certain "hot spots" do pop up outside of the exclusion zones at times, but he said officers work to monitor those and respond to them with special enforcement operations. Albert Jasper, who owns a restaurant in Old Town, described himself as one of the early supporters of drug-free zones. But Monday, he was critical of the expansion plan, saying the existing zones are not adequately enforced. Jasper says he continues to notice crack cocaine dealers milling about the Old Town neighborhood and not as many police officers targeting them as he has seen in past years. 
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