Until October, the list was circulating quietly in law enforcement circles. But then, as part of an ongoing case involving the city's Drug Free Zones (DFZ), a defense attorney filed a copy of the list in court as part of a challenge to the DFZ's constitutionality. From there, word about the list began to leak out.
Last week, the police and mayor Vera Katz were forced to defend the list as well as the DFZ. In the background, there was also concern about "sweeps" proposed by the police. Those sweeps intend to clear out homeless men and women who occasionally sleep or loiter in the grassy parkways adjacent to the I-405 corridor.
(In November, police cleared out a community garden near SW Jefferson and I-405. A more comprehensive sweep was proposed for later that month, but was delayed until Sunday, December 7. Those sweeps were postponed again after the Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the property, did not give permission to the police for the sweeps.)
Between the proposed sweeps, the list, and the DFZ, a common mentality for dealing with the city's homeless people and drug users has emerged: If we could just clean out some "unwanted elements," we could make Portland a more pleasant place to live.
On Tuesday, the newly appointed Police Chief Derrick Foxworth defended those policies to the Multnomah County Public Safety Coordinating Council, saying they are a viable means to reduce petty crimes like car break-ins and "livability" issues.
"I don't want to sit on our hands and not do anything," said Chief Foxworth.
But social service providers and attorneys are questioning whether harassing and chasing away individuals is the best policy for solving remedial crimes. Similar sweeps and targeted enforcement have occurred in other cities, prompting dozens of lawsuits in local, state, and federal courts. Three years ago, the ACLU won a lawsuit in Cleveland after the police there targeted specific individuals. In Pittsburgh, homeless advocates complain that police often sweep out the homeless or suspected drug dealers during the opening days of the Pirates' baseball season. And, in San Francisco, during the early years of Mayor Willie Brown's tenure, the police were accused of clearing out the Civic Center adjacent to city hall.
But attorneys point out that any effects of those programs have been short-lived; usually, within days or weeks, the homeless return to the area, or drug activity reconvenes with new users and dealers replacing the ones chased or locked away.
The architect of the sweeps plan, Officer Myers, explained to the Public Safety Coordinating Council that he hopes to make the sweeps part of a "holistic" approach to fighting crime, pushing repeat offenders into drug treatment programs and mental health services. But some service providers think that promise is mere lip service. Already, city services for homeless and drug-users are far overloaded and under-funded.
The concern over the list has emerged at the same time as the city's DFZs have been under severe scrutiny. Last Monday, Judge Michael Marcus presented a stern ruling questioning the DFZ's constitutionality. Under the decade-old law, police may kick out a suspected drug user or dealer from a specified area for 90 days simply if they think a person is using or dealing drugs. Judge Marcus said that the DFZ's rules unfairly make the police officer judge and jury.
Two days after the ruling, city council amended the DFZ to raise the level of proof needed by an arresting officer to "preponderance of evidence"--a change that sidesteps Judge Marcus' concerns.
"It was a good change," said Julie Stevens, an attorney who helped challenge the DFZ, "but it did not go nearly far enough." Stevens said that if city council does not amend the DFZ's guiding principles, further lawsuits may be necessary to bring about more changes.