Constitutional Interference 

Court Calls Police Tactics Unconstitutional

It may be time to send the city attorney back to law school. Over the past two years, several of Portland's vexing laws have been struck down as unconstitutional. There were the drug-free zones, followed by the sit/lie ordinance, and now we add the so-called "interfering with a police officer" (IPO) to the list. Under the law, an officer could cite and arrest a person simply for failing to comply with the officer's wishes.

That is exactly what happened to Rose Mary Illig-Renn, who was arrested last year for refusing an order to get out of her car at a traffic stop. Her arrest was challenged by the public defender on the basis that IPOs gave far too much discretion to police officers to determine when normally legal behavior--like sitting in a car or standing on a sidewalk--constitutes illegal behavior.

This decision is seen as a victory for protesters, as police can no longer simply order activists to disperse unless laws are actually being violated. However, the public defender did note that police can still sidestep these restrictions by charging people with resisting arrest.

Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch agreed the decision constituted a victory for protesters as well as average citizens, and also pointed out that those convicted under the old law could have their convictions overturned. Handelman went on to note that the City of Portland has recently supported a number of constitutionally questionable ordinances, including Katz's last-ditch effort to sidestep the billboard ordinance by proclaiming murals as public art, and the recent re-adoption of the controversial sit/lie rule. Both are expected to face court appeals. Though the police disobedience statute was a state law, not a city ordinance, Handelman said he hoped the case would encourage the city to "look at their policies across the board." He added the city needs "to wise up and stop writing bad laws."

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