Portland’s “War on Drugs” Impact Area

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

People accused of possessing, dealing or using drugs are being excluded from or prohibited from physically entering Old Town/Chinatown. For the first time in Portland’s history, they are also being excluded from downtown Portland and the Lloyd District.

Since the program began on June 1, Portland’s new drug impact area policy has already excluded 30 people from entering those areas for at least one year, and up to three.

The Portland City Council voted in April to create what are being called the “drug impact areas.” It is the city’s latest effort to deal with growing drug use in Old Town. As part of the program, $250,000 of city dollars were allocated to pay for a district attorney to prosecute drug crimes, as well as to pay overtime to 20 police officers who have a walking beat in Old Town that started June 8.

Earlier this year, business owners, residents and other constituencies of Old Town decried the sharp and noticeable uptick of drug use in their neighborhood, and begged the city to take action.

“It’s a notoriously bad place for drugs,” says Bill Prince, the Multnomah County District Attorney prosecuting the crimes.

The hope among those groups and city officials for the new impact areas is that drug crimes lessen. “We don’t want these open air drug markets,” Prince says. “That’s the crux of what we want to stop.”

That was also the hope for the “Drug Free Zones,” which excluded people from the Old Town area until the program ended in 2007. Then Mayor Tom Potter allowed Drug Free Zones to sunset because he had concerns that the program, which largely excluded African Americans, was discriminatory.

A police officer, under the old Drug Free Zone, would stop someone suspected of using, possessing or dealing drugs. If an officer had enough evidence to prove that the person indeed had drugs, individuals were excluded from the area on the spot, for 90 days. It did not go on the individual’s criminal record, and there was little recourse.

The new drug impact areas are starkly different than the old Drug Free Zone. Now the process is a multi-step process involving the district attorney’s office, the court system and parole and probation.

Individual’s are now arrested by a police officer if they are found to be in possession of a drug, dealing the drug, or using it. The drug impact areas are targeting two specific drugs: heroin and cocaine, along with marijuana.

The reason why those specific drugs were chosen, Prince says, is that arrest data kept by the Portland Police Bureau shows that the highest number of arrests in the areas of Portland now in the drug impact area come from those drugs. “It’s not arbitrary,” Prince says.

A deputy district attorney reviews the arresting officer’s report and decides if the case is prosecutable. If it is, the defendant gets an attorney and decides if he wants to take the case to trial. If he does not, then he enters into a plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.

The person is then put on probation. Any person convicted of a drug crime is put on probation, meaning that while the person is not in jail, they will continue to be under the supervision of a judge or a probation officer.

There can be numerous conditions of a person’s probation: that he or she attend Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings, go to drug treatment, and stay away from certain people or places that may aggravate those circumstances. The purpose of placing conditions on someone’s probation is that he or she does not act in a way that may lead to commit another crime.

When Portland’s City Council passed the ordinance creating the new drug impact areas in April, they also essentially created a new condition of probation: that a person be disallowed from entering Old Town, parts of downtown, and the Lloyd District. And by making it a condition of probation, the judge presiding over the hearing signs an order that the person not to enter those areas.

And whereas under the Drug Free Zone someone would have been excluded for 90 days, people are now excluded for between one year and three years.

The length of exclusion depends on a couple of factors, Prince says. One is the crime the individual is convicted of and whether it’s a misdemeanor drug offense or a felony drug offense. The judge also has discretion in determining how long a person should be excluded.

There are exceptions: if a person is going into Old Town, downtown or the Lloyd Center to seek social services, educational opportunities and/or work. If a person is found in the geographic area of the drug impact area and not for one of the excepted reasons, he or she, can be found in violation of their probation. Individuals probation can then be lengthened, and could face jailtime along with other possible consequences.

An individual is also screened by the Service Coordination Team (SCT), a controversial group of police officers and service providers who work in partnership targeting repeat drug offenders.

The program is more structured than the old Drug Free Zones, Prince says. “You wouldn’t have gone to trial,” he says, emphasizing that the process of excluding someone is now more transparent.

“The program is well thought out. It is based on the data,” Prince says.

He also says that the concerns social service providers and advocates had about civil liberties and race discrimination surrounding the Drug Free Zones have been addressed.

But neither the city, the Portland Police Bureau, nor the district attorney’s office are tracking race, gender, or other demographic information.

Prince says data is being compiled on the number of arrests made, how many people are being excluded, and how many people are going to prison versus simply being put on probation. A prison sentence may be likely if the individual is convicted of a felony, or if individuals have warrants out for their arrest. But he says there are no intentions of tracking demographic statistics.

“My feeling is that we have it all available,” in the police reports, he says.

Amy Ruiz, the spokesperson for Mayor Sam Adams, says the district attorney will seek exclusions for every drug case, regardless of race. And the City Council will get reports from the District Attorney’s office every 90 days with information on how the program is working, including the locations of prosecuted offenses, probation violations, the number of people excluded, and their demographic characteristics. She did not say if race was one of those specific characteristics.

Even though the program is less than two months old, advocates already have other, numerous concerns that the program may violate people’s constitutional rights.

Chris O’Connor, a public defender with Metropolitan Public Defender, says that people have a right to travel, associate with others, and similar rights under the 14th amendment. “And how could a person prove that they are in a particular area to, for example, seek social services, if they do not have written documentation of an appointment? That has not yet been tested”.

The person, O’Connor says, could be stopped by a police officer, and the officer could possibly assume that the person has been excluded. “There could be illegal stops and seizures,” O’Connor says.

Also of concern is that anyone in Multnomah County can be excluded from the drug impact areas, regardless of where an individual is arrested. For example, if someone were arrested for heroin possession in east Multnomah County, or arrested for cocaine dealing in far southwest Portland, that person could still be excluded from Old Town and downtown Portland, whether they frequent that area or not.

“The District Attorney will seek stay-away orders as a condition of probation for all people who are convicted of a drug offense in Multnomah County,”  says David Woboril, an assistant city attorney. “It will be up to the judges to determine how they want to handle this new type of probation violation.”

O’Connor thinks that makes no sense. “There is no nexus with the crime,” and the area they are being excluded from, he says. “You kick them out of a different part of the county,” he says.

Ruiz says that because the drug impact area program has been folded into the court system, an individual’s Constitutional rights are safeguarded. “Judges are issuing the stay away orders as part of sentencing,” Ruiz told Street Roots via email. “In that context, judges could do much more to impact a person’s ability to travel and associate, by putting someone in jail. Also, keep in mind that the stay away orders contain numerous exceptions that allow a person to enter or pass through an IDIA to meet critical needs.”

And is the drug impact area a program with a paperless policy? Street Roots made public records requests for any written guidelines or protocol for the Drug Impact Areas from the Portland Police Bureau and the City of Portland. We were told none existed to date.

By folding the drug impact areas into Multnomah County’s existing parole program, there would seem to be no need for a policy outlining what the program is, how it works, the process, the standards upon which someone is excluded, etc.

Other policies created by city ordnance that involve the police have such policies. One example is Portland’s camping ordinance, which makes it illegal to camp on public property. The Portland Police Bureau has what are called “standard operating procedures” that detail what the police officer can and cannot do when they find someone camping underneath a bridge.

No such procedures exist for the drug impact policy. “There is no clear guidance in the ordinance. They’ve learned a lesson from the Drug Free Zone,” O’Connor says. “It’s a smart move if you want to avoid outside critics from seeing the data.”

During the city council’s April discussion before creating the drug impact areas, Mayor Sam Adams assured critics that there would be opportunity for concerned parties to reconvene and discuss how the program was working, give input, and make changes.

“The Mayor’s office assured those of us who were concerned that there was going to be opportunity for policy” discussions, input and feedback,” says Chani Geigle-Teller, community organizer with Sisters Of The Road. “That hasn’t happened. The community has had no input.”

Ruiz says that the mayor’s staff will check in with neighborhood and community organizations this fall.

The ACLU of Oregon told Street Roots this week that the organization is starting to monitor the program’s implementation.

Read the SR editorial on Drug Impact Area’s here.

7 responses to “Portland’s “War on Drugs” Impact Area

  1. Pingback: SR editorial: Drug Impact Area’s raises serious questions and concerns | For those who can’t afford free speech

  2. This is ridiculous! So, does being homeless and going to eat at one of the shelter’s considered “seeking social services”?! What about the Street Church down on the corner across from the Salvation Army? Can they go there?! If your homeless and live downtown then that’s where all your food, services and AA meetings would be! Instead of spending all this money trying to corral addicts why don’t we spend some on decent TREATMENT?!

  3. This bad stuff
    Unconstitutional
    And a slap in the face with our own constitution
    Sad to see this happening

  4. ouch! seems a bit extreme. But then so are speedballs. It is sad though to see people who feel they must go to such extremes to change the way they feel inside, being criminalized and labeled to such an extreme as a felon. I do understand that there are many people trying to recover in old town and any visible using and dealing should not be allowed at all. Dealing, robbery, Burglarizing, felonize the hell out of em.Simply using, well that casts some rather harmless people into a stigma pool that in my opinion is overkill and hope squashing. When employers and mainstream people hear the word felon they automatically picture rapists, car jackers, violent crimes, etc. It really does undermine opportunities of all sorts when they are tagged a felon. Many are simply self medicating in a desperate manner. Lets be careful not to over criminalize poverty stricken, often mentally ill, self medicators. Illegal yes. Mabey after their 2nd or 3rd conviction and no signs of willingness or effort to get clean and handle their problems appropiately they should deserve such an outcasting label as felon. I do understand the frustration around this issue. Thank goodness we have the recovery resources in place.

  5. Robert Lantz

    I live in Old town and you people who don’t live here have know idea of how bad it really is. All night long drug dealers walk up and down the streets fighting, yelling, threatening each other. Three people have been killed in the last six months, one was shot in the leg two weeks ago. The majority of those who hang out in Old-town at night are drug dealers\gang members. Something has and should be done. I’m grateful the city is doing something about it. You would too if it was in your backyard.

  6. See that’s the thing Robert, you know, you do live in a city. Now, I’m not saying it isn’t bad, and I’m not saying things don’t need to be done. I do think they need to be done, just in a different way.

    SR has been part of the Old Town neighborhood for nearly a decade — so it’s our backyard too. More so, I live on NE Killingsworth and 16th, and guess what — there’s drug dealers and shootings in my neighborhood too. But I haven’t, and you won’t see my neighborhood jumping up and down and saying we need a drug free zone, or to trample on people’s rights.

    I’ve watched Old Town leaders for more than 10-years follow the same rabbit down the same rabbit hole w/more law enforcement this, and more law enforcement that. Economic development creates vibrant neighborhoods, and unfortunately we are in a recession w/high unemployment rates, homelessness and extreme poverty — with that comes social problems that are bigger than you or me, and have to be dealt with through smart and effective polices. The war on drug aint it!

    Israel Bayer

  7. Pingback: Drug impact areas 240 people lighter after six months | For those who can’t afford free speech

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