Will new zones help?

More than a year after Gresham's first drug-free exclusion zone came into effect, police are hoping two more will clamp down on criminal activity
by: Carole Archer, TriMet passengers arrive via MAX train at Gresham Central Thursday afternoon, Jan. 17, at Southeast Eighth Street and Kelly Avenue, right in the middle of a proposed new drug-free exclusion zone.

The view from Snow-CAP Community Charities Executive Director Judy Alley's office is a constant reminder of why she is in Rockwood. Snow-CAP's home on Southeast Stark, behind the Rockwood United Methodist Church, is adjacent to an empty field favored by drug addicts and transients.

'We go out there and pick up the needles and the condoms and the human waste all the time,' Alley said.

Snow-CAP also sits in the heart of one of two new proposed drug-free exclusion zones, which would enable police to ban certain drug offenders. The exclusion zone surrounding Snow-CAP would stretch west from 181st Avenue to 162nd Avenue, between Stark and Glisan streets, and expand on an existing zone east of 181st Avenue. A second new zone would box an area around the downtown Gresham MAX light-rail station at Eighth and Kelly.

Exclusion zones in other cities, including Portland, have inspired constitutional challenges and charges of racial profiling. Another criticism is that exclusion zones merely displace crime.

Gresham's first exclusion zone elicited a different kind of criticism last fall, one year after it went into effect: police weren't using it.

According to police statistics, only four people were excluded from the Rockwood Drug-Free Zone from January to September of 2007. But, with new training initiated by Sgt. Michael LeDuc, who took over the program in October, police excluded 28 people over the next three months.

LeDuc addressed a small but supportive group of Rockwood residents on Tuesday night, Jan. 15, to explain the program. He said that part of the rationale for the new west Rockwood zone is the $30,000 in overtime that Gresham Police accrued last summer because of surging criminal activity in the proposed exclusion area. During that time, LeDuc said he met with a number of neighborhood groups.

'They were all scared to death,' LeDuc said. 'It was pretty much uncontrollable.'

Grounds for exclusion

The new zones require approval from Gresham City Council, which will take up the matter in early February, and would follow the same rules as the existing zone. In the existing zone, police can exclude anyone suspected of unlawful possession or delivery of a controlled substance, unless the offense involves less than one ounce of marijuana. Attempting to possess, or to cause another person to possess, are also grounds for exclusion.

Exclusions take effect 15 days after issuance, and initially last up to 90 days. A conviction will extend the exclusion to one year. An exclusion cannot result from an offense that occurs in a private residence.

A Gresham hearings officer reviews every exclusion, and suspects are eligible to appeal. LeDuc said the police will make 'common sense' variances to the exclusion order. For example, excluded individuals are allowed to travel in a zone if they live or work within the boundaries.

Gresham Police have responded to concerns about racial profiling with statistics showing that 68 percent of excluded suspects since October are white. Alley's experience substantiates the statistic.

'Most of the druggies I see are white,' Alley said.

Alley said it's clear that some of the people served by Snow-CAP are drug-addicted, and stressed that all are welcome at her organization.

'We want to be a haven for the hungry and homeless,' Alley said.

But she said she is pleased by the prospect of an exclusion zone if it means a safer working environment.

'Basically, my neighborhood is a war zone,' said Shawn Closter, secretary of Rockwood United Methodist Church, which abuts the same field that Snow-CAP does. 'We have shootings. We have drive-bys.'

Closter, a 15-year member of the congregation, said the church also gets hit with graffiti every six to weight weeks. But Closter said the graffiti and violence seem to not be connected to the people who use the field.

'I don't think the people I find sleeping in the stairwell are related to the gang stuff,' she said.

Closter said she frequently finds needles in the stairwell, but that she is conflicted about what to do. Sometimes, she said, she is tempted to do on an individual level what police are doing at an institutional level.

'You want to tell them to go do it in somebody else's backyard, but that's not a solution.' Closter said. 'They don't have any place to go.'