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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

After Mercury Request, Drug Impact Area Reports Now Tracking Arrests: More than Half Are Black

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 3:07 PM

Almost a year after the Mercury first sought information on how cops enforce the trespassing exclusions at the heart of Portland's controversial Illegal Drug Impact Area program, that data—including the racial background and criminal history of those arrested—has finally been included in the city's official report.

According to the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, 99 people have been arrested for violating a stay-away order in one of the three exclusion zones set up by the police bureau and prosecutor's office, meaning just under one in five people handed an exclusion by a judge have violated that order.

But the report contains one especially eyebrow-raising statistic: of those 99 people arrested (who had a combined 684 felony convictions on their respective rap sheets), 58 are African-American. That's a much higher rate than the overall population of African-Americans and higher even than the rate of minority Portlanders given exclusions after drug-crime arrests: roughly 39 percent.

How race plays in the program, seen as successful in helping reduce drug crime, is a sensitive issue. The city's previous experiment with drug exclusion zones ran aground because of concerns about racial profiling. The current model, by tying exclusions to judicial probation orders, adding substance abuse treatment, and looping in the district attorney's office, was supposed to ease those concerns. But police accountability advocates have remained skeptical, given the disproportionately high percentage of minorities excluded and what had previously been silence by the police bureau on its enforcement efforts.

Deputy District Attorney Billy Prince, the prosecutor formerly in charge of the DIA program, explained the results to me. He cautioned that it's hard to explain exactly why the minority arrest rate is higher but said that most of the arrests happened in the city exclusion zone focused on cocaine crimes, a smaller area than other zones that's focused tightly on Old Town.

He also said that cops can't decide, under police bureau policy, whether to let someone found violating an exclusion order to skate past. Officers have to make an arrest or call the alleged trespasser's probation officer. Judges, he said, also have to rule on whether someone arrested for violating an exclusion really was.

"I'm not aware of any judge ruling that someone arrested was in the zone properly," Prince said.

The Mercury first asked for details on arrests in January. I asked again in May and was sidestepped. And then I asked again in mid-August, when the DA's previous report on the program came out. The police bureau told me it needed to spend time gathering the data, which it wasn't able to produce until late September.

But instead of making the data public, the police bureau was told to hand it to Mayor Sam Adams' office. Adams' office commissioned Prince to produce even more data, like the criminal history of those arrested, and all of the information was put into the DA's 15-month progress report.

That report was submitted to city council offices December 12 and obtained by the Mercury today after Prince spoke briefly about the program at city council. Prince tells me that the arrest data I sought will officially be incorporated into future reports.

Expect updates on this story.

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