Council member Jim Francesconi, the only one to vote against Dignity Village, introduced a rewrite for the city's so-called "exclusion law." Under the ordinance, police or park officials can kick any person out of a park or Pioneer Square if they suspect that person is committing a crime or looks like the criminal type. Civil rights attorneys say exclusion laws are used unfairly to chase away homeless men and women. Last year
2200 exclusions were issued.
Last year, a circuit court judge hinted that the exclusion laws may trample over basic constitutional rights, and civil rights attorneys had demanded a re-write of the ordinance. On Wednesday, in support of the rewrites, police stepped up to the microphone and bemoaned that without exclusion laws they are virtually defenseless. (Portland is the only city that has such an enforcement tool; a similar law in Cincinnati was knocked down several years ago as unconstitutional.)
"It is essential that (the police and park employees) have the ability to eject people," explained Mark Warrington, public safety manager for the Parks & Rec Bureau. Officer Jeff Myers [a recent nominee in the Mercury's "Most Rotten Cop" competition] gave a PowerPoint presentation that flashed images of needles and poop--an apparent byproduct of not being able to chase away "undesirables." Commander Rosie Sizer chimed in, "Bad things are happening and we have no tools or resources to enforce park exclusions."
Testifying against the exclusion rules, Ed Johnson, an attorney with Oregon Law Center, said that he believes the rewrite will continue to violate constitutional protections.
"Right now, they get rid of a person for any reason that they see fit," explained Johnson. "We're worried that they issue exclusions to people who look homeless, have tattoos, or are dressed like a vampire." Johnson went on to say that, "if someone is wielding a knife or dealing drugs, exclude them; but not if someone jaywalks, skateboards, or is pushing a cart."
Part of the controversy also hovers around exactly who is empowered under the rewrite to issue an exclusion. Under Francesconi's ordinance, not only can police officers exclude citizens, but so can any Park & Rec employee, PSU public safety officer and, oddly, even concessionaires at golf courses can kick people out for at least 30 days.
"I mean how many drug deals go on at golf courses?" commissioner Erik Sten wondered aloud. The ordinance moves forward for a vote this Wednesday, after press time.