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Residents concerns lead to drug-free area

Officials expect more arrests right away will lead to safer neighborhood

Gresham city councilors unanimously approved creating the city's first drug-free zone during a Tuesday, July 18, council meeting.

The proposed zone, located in the heart of Rockwood, is roughly between 181st and 192nd avenues and Northeast Glisan Street and Southeast Yamhill Street.

If councilors formally adopt the ordinance on Aug. 15 - as expected - the zone could be in effect by mid September. The zone would remain in place for 18 months, but before the designation ends, Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso would recommend whether to continue the program or redraw the zone.

The zone is mirrored after similar zones in Portland that have successfully reduced drug offenses in places like Washington Park and Old Town since 1992.

Drug free zones allow officers to exclude alleged drug criminals from a designated area for 90 days. If they return within that time - and are not in the area because they live, work or do legitimate business there - officers can arrest the offender for trespassing. Offenders can then be excluded for a year.

Gresham police Sgt. Teddi Anderson came up with the idea of applying a similar zone to Rockwood when a community survey revealed that drugs and gangs made Rockwood residents feel most unsafe in their neighborhood.

Also the number of drug-possession arrests in the proposed Rockwood drug fee zone from April 2005 to April 2006 are triple that of four other similarly sized areas in Gresham. Rockwood had 116 arrests. The highest number of arrests in the other four areas was 38.

Arrests for delivering drugs in the zone are 30 percent higher than the highest number of such arrests in the other four areas.

In fact, the total number of all drug arrests in the zone is only slightly less than all drug arrests in the four other areas combined - 140 compared to 142.

Although the zone won't eliminate drug offenses in Rockwood, such offenses are expected to drop over time, said Deputy District Attorney Chris Piekarski.

But during the first year, citizens can expect an initial spike in drug arrests - not because drug use or sales are up, but because officers will have a new tool allowing them to focus on such offenses, Piluso said.

Arrests are expected to decline during the second year with a noticeable impact most likely within four years, Piekarski said.

He also said Gresham residents shouldn't worry that drug offenses will just move to areas outside the drug-free zone.

'Areas around zones also experience a drop in these crimes,' he said.

Piekarski said he also expects the zone to reduce property crimes associated with drugs use - particularly methamphetamine - such as car break-ins, thefts and assaults.