On Wednesday, July 17, the Northwest District Association hosted a meeting to discuss crime problems in the Northwest neighborhoods. In an attempt to address what is perceived as a recent proliferation of drug activity and prostitution in Northwest Portland, the Association is working with Portland police to expand and modify Portland's Drug- and Prostitution-Free Zones. But while Northwest residents are eager to chase out the bad elements, others are worried their actions may simply foist their problems into other areas.

Enacted in 1992, the Prostitution and Drug Zone ordinance has been a controversial tool for the police. It enables officers to kick out anyone suspected of violating drug or prostitution laws from a specified area for 90 days. Anyone banished from the zone with a legitimate necessity for being there--for instance, if their home, job, or social service programs fall within its borders--may be issued a variance to enter and travel through expressly for these purposes, but just for those purposes.

If the expansion is granted, the zone would enlarge past its core areas of inner North Portland and Old Town to encompass a wide swath of the Northwest, reaching as far as 23rd Avenue.

Although the community of Northwest residents seems united in a desire to improve the safety of their neighborhood, responses to the proposed zone expansion were mixed. One man wanted to know why a convicted offender could only be excluded for a year, and not indefinitely. One woman suggested that she take digital photos of suspected criminals and simply email them to the police. Others called to redirect attention towards solving the root of the problem through increased prevention and treatment programs.

Wednesday's meeting did not result in any definitive plans, but was simply an opportunity for residents to vent their concerns and to clarify legal questions.

"The next step," says Frank Bird, President of the Association, "is let's see what shakes out of this." He adds, "the DA could expand [the zone] without any neighborhood input."