For months, business owners and neighborhood leaders in Old Town-Chinatown have called for the re-institution of a controversial Drug and Prostitution Exclusion Zone that expired in September 2007.

On Tuesday, April 5, Mayor Sam Adams promised a more effective, get-tough policy aimed at permanently reducing drug-related crime.

“We want to send out a message loud and clear,” Adams told a forum of business and community leaders on April 5. “The days of citations are over. The free-wheeling days are done.”

Under the new proposal, parole and probation officers will work with the police to immediately arrest or ban from the Northwest Historic District individuals with drug-related convictions.

If approved by city council, the initiative will also call for:

  • Funding of a deputy district attorney to specifically target high drug-impact zones throughout the city
  • Seeking court approval to give police officers authority to make immediate arrests of those violating the exclusion zones
  • Putting more police on foot patrols in Old Town-Chinatown
  • Encouraging businesses to clean up properties and add more lighting in spots frequented by drug users

Additional actions the mayor proposed included: not re-opening two closed public restrooms, installing video cameras along public right-of-ways, using drug-sniffing dogs around planters and news boxes, and urging TriMet to beef up its security along the transit mall.

In a pre-emptory move, the Portland Police recently completed a four-week sting operation in Old Town that is expected to result in at least 32 grand jury indictments against alleged drug dealers operating in the former exclusion zones.

“We expect this to have a chilling impact on all dealers in the area,” said Portland Police Chief Mike Reese.

Police and crime prevention specialists will follow up by distributing the names and photographs of those convicted of drug-related crimes to business operators and community groups.

“This should result in a significant reduction in drugs,” Reese said.

As a visual reminder of the new policy, Adams ordered the police bureau to park its mobile precinct in the heart of Old Town-Chinatown starting this week.

Four years ago, the city allowed its 15-year-old Drug and Prostitution Exclusion Zone to expire after a study concluded that African-Americans had been disproportionately targeted. Since then, residents and business owners in Old Town-Chinatown said that drug usage and related crimes have increased dramatically, spilling into the adjoining Downtown and Pearl District neighborhoods.

Last February, the Old Town-Chinatown Neighborhood Association sent a letter to Adams describing rampant drug dealing and use, an increase in assaults and growing fear in the community.

Howard Weiner, owner of Cal Skate Skateboards and Old Town-Chinatown board member, joined in supporting the proposal.

“It’s taking a toll on everyone,” he said.

Jamie Dunn, owner of Gilt Restaurant agreed.

“How soon will we see it taking effect?” he asked.

The mayor said that he would take his proposal to city council in about two weeks where he expects strong support.