Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jun 2013
Source: Portland Mercury (OR)
Copyright: 2013 The Portland Mercury
Author: Dirk VanderHart


IN PORTLAND, your drug of choice can dictate your movements.

Get popped with a marijuana conviction, you might find yourself 
disallowed from much of Old Town and downtown. Busted with heroin or 
cocaine? You could be unwelcome in both of those, plus the Lloyd District.

But maybe that's set to change.

The so-called Drug Impact Areas (DIAs) established by then-Mayor Sam 
Adams in 2011 have been celebrated by business owners and questioned 
by defense attorneys. Now they might fall victim to the push and pull 
over city and county priorities that's become a hallmark of Mayor 
Charlie Hales' tenure.

As part of the budget Portland City Council passed on May 29, 
Portland is pulling the more than $100,000 it doles out annually for 
a deputy prosecutor who handles DIA cases. With that money unlikely 
to be replaced by the county, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod 
Underhill is puzzling over whether his limited resources are best 
spent enforcing what is largely a city-initiated policy.

"We're exploring that very thing almost as we speak," Underhill says. 
"I have other obligations-to property crime, to East County. I have a 
much broader lens."

If Underhill decides he should focus his attention on other 
priorities, the DIAs will take a nosedive. The city's money pays for 
a deputy DA who prioritizes certain drug cases-pushing for 
convictions and then probation orders that stipulate an offender may 
not enter an impact area except for a valid reason, like a job.

The program is similar to Portland's old Drug Exclusion Zones, 
discontinued in 2007, which did not require a conviction to enforce, 
just an arrest, and met heavy criticism that it unfairly targeted minorities.

"Having that DA is critically important," Police Chief Mike Reese 
tells the Mercury. "You pull that out, it jeopardizes the whole thing."

The county's most-current statistics on the DIA program weren't 
available by deadline, but a report released one year into the 
project reflected almost 600 exclusions had been issued-most of those 
cases stemming from possession rather than distribution of drugs. In 
addition, numbers obtained by the Mercury show, as of December 31, 
113 people had been arrested since the program's inception for 
illegally entering one of the zones.

Howard Weiner, owner of Cal Skate Skateboards and a member of the Old 
Town Chinatown Community Association, has long been a fan of the 
areas. It's been years since someone smoked crack in his doorway 
during business hours.

So Weiner was surprised to learn the program's future is in question. 
He'd heard dedicated money for a prosecutor would be on the table.

"I didn't think we'd be having this discussion," he says. "This is 
not what we want to see."

Hales has questioned several other city-county partnerships while 
seeking to fill a $21.5 million budget gap. Most prominently, the 
mayor's office briefly clashed with the county over funding for 
social services programs before working out a deal.

The prosecutor spot is no different, Hales says-the county should be 
paying for its own employees, even if their role is to administer a 
city-initiated policy.

"I think we can be adults about this," Hales says. "This is not a 
vote of no-confidence in the work. It's a question of who pays for it."

The DIAs have not seen universal acclaim. They're not reviled like 
the old exclusion zones, but the impact areas have caused defense 
attorneys to wonder whether they might unnecessarily lead to strict 
conviction standards on minor drug offenses-essentially heaping more 
trouble on low-level addicts already grappling with myriad problems.

And some question, anecdotal evidence aside, whether the DIAs have 
meaningfully curbed drug activity.

"Is there any standard by which they're judging whether this is a 
successful thing, is my bigger concern," says Lane Borg, executive 
director of Metropolitan Public Defenders Services, Inc. "If it went 
away, I don't know that we would feel like things are vastly 
different downtown. I could be wrong."

Cops' views of the program, meanwhile, are unclear. The Mercury asked 
Reese whether he believed the DIAs are achieving their intended goals.

He notably stopped short of praising the program, saying only: "It's 
one of the tools in the toolbox."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom