My, how history repeats itself!
Last year, at the request of Mayor Tom Potter, city council voted to renew the city's controversial Drug- and Prostitution-Free Zones (DFZs) for one year—but only because the mayor promised to establish an oversight committee to study the racial fairness and effectiveness of the policy.
But then—oh no!—that year quickly drew to an end, and the oversight committee was nowhere in sight. The mayor's office cobbled together a committee, which met three times, to show skeptics on city council that they were actually doing something—anything—to address pretty clear evidence that the DFZs target minority communities. (The law allows police officers to exclude people from North and Northeast Portland and downtown for 90 days if they're arrested with drugs—their exclusion sticks even if their criminal case is thrown out.)
And so, despite disillusionment from at least two commissioners, council unanimously voted to extend the policy for another six months, "in order to continue the work of the oversight committee." That was on April 11. Two months ago. It's now more than a third of the way through that six months—and the oversight committee hasn't met since April. It has effectively been dissolved. Once again, the mayor was able to get his policy pushed through, but has failed to deliver on his promises.
The last communication from the mayor's office to the committee members was sent by Public Safety Adviser Maria Rubio on May 24, saying the committee was being restructured to "better utilize your time, expertise, and interest in assisting the city to review the DFZ/PFZ policy."
The mayor's office didn't return a call for comment by press time.
In the meantime, the DFZs still suffer from a number of problems, like the seemingly unavoidable fact that more African Americans are excluded than Caucasians. Add to that the reality that the district attorney is simply dismissing any case where an individual challenges an exclusion violation, according to public defender (and former DFZ committee member) Chris O'Connor, and you have a policy that is potentially unfair, lacking oversight, and probably ineffective.
The upshot: The police bureau is finally releasing data on who is excluded from a neighborhood and for what reason. But instead of that data being analyzed by the now-nonexistent oversight committee, it'll be analyzed by consultant John Campbell, under contract as an independent researcher.
The lingering question is what will happen in four months, when the policy is voted on for the third time in two years. Will city council finally lose patience with broken promises?