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Monday, July 22, 2013

Even Without City Money, Prosecutor Will Keep Enforcing Drug Exclusions

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 3:59 PM

IDA.jpg

A cash-saving gambit that jeopardized a drug enforcement policy popular with Portland businesses has paid off for Mayor Charlie Hales. For now.

Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill tells the Mercury he has decided to continue support of the city's Drug Impact Area (DIA) program. Underhill had been weighing in recent months whether to keep a prosecutor focused on the program—an initiative spurred by the city, but one which Hales elected not to fund this budget cycle. The city for years footed the bill for a prosecutor whose attention was focused on convincing judges to exclude certain drug offenders from Old Town, Downtown or the Lloyd District (and sometimes all three). That funding disappeared in the mayor's efforts to close a $21.5 budget hole.

"I think we can be adults about this," Hales told me in June. "This is not a vote of no-confidence in the work. It's a question of who pays for it."

Underhill previously decided to stay involved through the summer (when his office benefits from intern labor). Part of that decision was based on clamor from Portland's business community, which loves the DIA program, and credits the policy for reducing blatant, daytime drug use outside of downtown businesses. Earlier this month, the prosecutor announced to the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) he'd further extend DIA prosecutions until December before re-evaluating.

"Because of the tremendous success of the DIA program I am committed to trying to continue our participation in this area," Underhill wrote in a July 5 letter [pdf] to PBA President and CEO Sandra McDonough. "Therefore, despite the loss of funding for the position at this time and the demands in other important areas of prosecution work, I will commit to our continued participation through at least the end of this calendar year."

According to numbers provided in early June, the DIA program resulted in almost 1,050 exclusions in its first two years. That number includes drug offenders who've been given multiple exclusion—one guy had five.

The DIA policy is the ancestor descendant of much-maligned Drug Exclusion Zones, which didn't require a conviction to enforce. The zones were killed in 2007 amid concerns they unfairly targeted minorities.

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