Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jul 1999
Source: Akron Beacon-Journal (OH)
Copyright: 1999 by the Beacon Journal Publishing Co.
Author: Gregory Korte


Akron Police Are Given More Power On Street To Put Loiterers In Jail

Akron City Council gave police another weapon in the war against drugs
yesterday, passing an ordinance making it illegal to hang out on street
corners with the intent to sell drugs.

Proponents of the law hailed its long-awaited passage as a victory for
those who can't leave their homes for fear of drug dealers. But opponents
worried that the law gives police too much power to harass innocent people,
especially minorities. The vote was 12-1. Council President Marco
Sommerville -- expressing dissatisfaction over how the law would be
enforced -- cast the lone dissenting vote.

Sommerville said the ordinance would give people ``false hope'' in the war
against drugs. Because of jail overcrowding, and because the offense is
only a fourth-degree misdemeanor, it's unlikely that police will be able to
keep drug dealers off the streets for more than a couple of hours -- if at
all, he said.

``When they stop these people, what are they going to do? Are they going to
take them downtown? No, they're going to give them a summons,'' he said.
``We've raised the expectations of the community, but we're not going to be
taking people off the streets.''

The Akron chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People and the Akron Barristers Association -- a group of black
lawyers -- both weighed in against the ordinance yesterday.

They cited fears that police would abuse the law, violate civil rights, and
enforce it more often against racial minorities.

But proponents of the law said they've already anticipated those objections
by creating a review committee to examine how the law is being enforced.

The law sat on the City Council's agenda for more than a year -- first
because a similar Chicago law was being challenged before the U.S. Supreme
Court, and then because of weeks of tinkering by council members. Recent
changes include:

Police now have an increased burden of proof. Suspects arrested under the
law must now meet at least three of 10 criteria police use to determine
that someone has an intent to sell drugs.

The review board now comprises five members -- up from three -- and is made
up of a member of City Council, the mayor, a police officer and two citizens.

The review committee will be required to keep records of the names of
officers making arrests under the law, the location of the arrests, and the
criteria used to make the arrest. Mayor Don Plusquellic has already said he
would sign the ordinance.

Councilman John Conti, D-9, said he, too, had some reservations. But in the
end, he said, ``I think doing something is better than doing nothing.''
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