FROM THE EDITOR
The OTHER recent City Council decision that has left wounds in the community
Probably there isn't anyone in Portland at this point who is not aware that the Mayor and City Council, in an apparent effort to honor Hispanic labor leader Cesar Chavez, tried to rename N. Interstate Avenue after him, then S.E. 4th downtown (and in Chinatown), only to run into a blitz of opposition from residents and businesspeople. In the end the public outcry led to a complete reversal by the Council on all these decisions.
Had East Portland residents managed to get as much press over the late summer decision by the Mayor and City Council to terminate the 'Prostitution Free Zone' and 'Drug Free Zone' ordinances, perhaps that other bad mistake might have been undone as well.
Our correspondent David F. Ashton followed this important East Portland problem in a series of well-researched articles for www.eastPDXnews.com. With his permission, we present a condensation, so that you will be as aware as you should be of how well and without abuse these ordinances actually did work in East Portland, how the city-touted rehabilitation resources all have evaporated, and how the ordinances are still needed. . .
At midnight on September 30th, Portland's Prostitution-free Zone (PFZ) and Drug-free Zone (DFZ) ordinances, in the parlance of Mayor Potter, 'sunseted'. But the term 'sunset' is just a nice way of saying the city fathers took away a valuable policing tool by letting it die, according to neighbors and businesspeople in outer East Portland.
Shortly before the ordinances expired, we set out to discover if neighbors and businesses along N.E. Sandy Boulevard and along 82nd Avenue of Roses were overstating what they call the 'prostitution problem'. We rode along with Portland Police Bureau East Precinct officers Lacey Sparling and Heath Kula, late on a Saturday afternoon.
Sparling showed us a thick stack of papers listing individuals who, under the PFZ ordinance, were forbidden to tread 82nd Avenue and N.E. Sandy - except to conduct legitimate business.
'By now,' Sparling added, 'We recognize most of the girls we've excluded. In a couple of weeks, we've gone from half a page, to over four pages of exclusion listings. We're going out today looking out for the regular girls.'
Although we rode in a fully-equipped - but unmarked - patrol car, officers didn't have to hide in the bushes or sneak around corners to find what they were looking for.
Even those prostitutes who had been excluded from 'working' an area were standing and walking brazenly in the afternoon sun, soliciting business.
A neighbor noticed the police car and leaned out the window of his home and thanked the officers for the work they do, saying, 'Hey, we really appreciate it. It's gotten really bad around here.'
City's pretext faulty
We found that in areas of outer East Portland where street prostitution flourishes, neighbors and business people were astonished and dismayed that the Portland City Council allowed Prostitution-free Zone (PFZ) and Drug-free Zone (DFZ) ordinances expire - without even a hearing!
A lengthy press release from the Mayor's office said that Mayor Potter commissioned Campbell DeLong Resources Inc. to conduct an independent analysis of how the law was being enforced, and whether it unfairly targeted minorities. The report's summary: '… enforcement [is] focused on the poor and minorities -- especially African Americans.'
So, we asked John Campbell, of Campbell DeLong Resources Inc., if his study included statistics regarding Prostitution-free Zone enforcement.
'Our study was regarding Drug-free Zones,' Campbell tells us, 'There was some discussion about [including] Prostitution-free Zones. It was not assigned as a project.'
Got that? THE PROSTITUTION-FREE ZONES WERE NOT EVEN EXAMINED IN THE REPORT THE MAYOR ORDERED WHICH LED TO THE ORDINANCES' END. And, it appeared to us, most if not all of the research took place in Old Town downtown - not East Portland. Yet the force of the sunseting of the ordinances fell on East Portland.
Further, official Portland Police Bureau statistics show that in 314 total PFZ arrests, over half -173 persons arrested - were classified as 'White'; 141 persons arrested were classified 'non-White' - a category consisting of a range of Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian persons.
'The PFZ was a good tool,' Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs told us. 'Now, we have one less tool in our 'toolbox'. But, we, as a Bureau, will continue to enforce laws.' Crebs said police are developing specific programs to combat street prostitution - the results of which will be evaluated every 30 days.
Treatment? WHAT treatment?
Both Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Randy Leonard said the Prostitution-free Zone (PFZ) and Drug-free Zone ordinances were ineffective and unfair. 'I haven't been in favor of the ordinances,' Leonard told us after the ordinances expired. 'Even if they are constitutional, I don't think they solve the problem.'
A better idea is to provide treatment, Leonard said: 'Our Project 57, in which we rent 57 jail beds from the county to hold chronic offenders, has reduced recidivism among the top 300 repeat offenders by 71%.'
However, because it is judges who sentence those who are arrested to jail, and not the police, the police say street-level prostitutes actually spend very little time in jail when they are arrested.
'Anyone arrested [for a Project 57 offence] is taken to the Portland Justice Center for booking,' says Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs. 'They are 'in jail' as long as it takes them to be booked, and make bail. If they can't make bail, they are held until their arraignment. Practically speaking, it can be from about eight hours to a couple of days before they are released.'
Multnomah County - not the City of Portland - is in charge of administering all treatment and rehabilitation programs. At a recent public meeting, we asked Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler if the county provides rehabilitation or treatment services for prostitutes.
'As far as I know,' Wheeler said, 'there are no services specifically targeted toward prostitutes for alcohol and drug treatment. This is a serious issue; it seems like a gap in the services we provide to the community.'
Top treatment director speaks
Chair Wheeler suggested we contact the Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services Division to learn more. After a telephone introduction, the division's director, Karl Brimner, M.Ed., agreed to meet with us.
We asked if inmates are required to undergo any kind of treatment while in jail.
Brimner replied, 'There may be some treatment available for people while they're in jail, but most of the programs are after the discharge. It might be outpatient services or residential services.'
He added that judges frequently make this treatment a condition of release, particularly if they are going on probation.
We asked, 'When women who are convicted of prostitution go to jail, they are typically in the grip of their pimp. How might we help them break that control - break the cycle?'
Brimner replies, 'It does get back to areas similar to domestic violence; the cycles that occur there in unhealthy relationships. Where domestic violence is part of the problem, there are services available.
'If a woman has been arrested for prostitution and has identified some areas, like domestic violence, or alcohol and drugs, or wants to see a mental health counselor - these can all be conditions of release as well. This would help the person deal with the problem, so they're not recycling back into the criminal justice system.'
The bottom line: We learned there isn't a specific program in which a judge can say, 'As part of your conditions of release, you will take and complete the prostitution aversion program'.
Good help is hard to find
In closing, Brimner told about three organizations that work with prostituted women.
'One is 'New Options for Women'. It is counseling and assistance services for women and girls involved in a variety of aspects of the industry, including prostitution.'
When we called New Options, we learned the program lost its funding from Multnomah County during the summer, and has disbanded. It's just not there anymore.
'Another is called 'Rehab Sisters',' Brimner stated. 'It is involved in counseling and support for those who work in the 'sex industry'.'
Rehab Sisters' telephone number has been disconnected; there is no new number. Through extensive Internet and directory searches, we find no listing for this organization. It's just not there anymore.
'The third is 'Sex Worker Outreach', run through the Portland Women's Crisis Helpline.'
When we contacted the Helpline, we were told that they don't operate a rehabilitation program; they run a crisis-referral service. However, the person in charge of 'Sex Worker Outreach' has not returned our calls. Maybe that's not there anymore either?
No customer diversion programs
Most 'johns' - the customers of prostitution - are never prosecuted. Until they closed two years ago, the Lola Greene Baldwin Foundation ran court-mandated educational programs for 'johns'.
They, too, lost their county and state funding. They're not there anymore.
It's up to you
Sadly, this tragic problem is 'out of sight; out of mind' for most Portland residents - they simply don't care.
But, for the neighbors who go on their daily 'used condom and needle patrol' missions; shoo their children away from the sordid things they can see through the front windows of their homes; and feel unsafe on their own street in East Portland as 'johns' and 'hookers' conduct their business as usual - the quality of life in 'their Portland' continues to sink.
Until the citizens of Portland tire of the vice that grips outer East Portland neighborhoods along N.E. Sandy Boulevard, and along 82nd Avenue of Roses, and choose to elect leaders who feel their discontent, and perhaps return some useful tools to them to improve the quality of life in their part of the city, street prostitution will flourish.
THE BEE thanks David F. Ashton for allowing us to bring you his outstanding reporting of another depressing instance of a different recent City Council decision than you've heard about, which also caused divisiveness - and actually increased crime in a part of the city many seem not to think about too much: The large part of the City of Roses that stretches east from 82nd.