When Steven Michael Todd crouched down to speak to a friend this fall, he didn’t intend to commit a crime, and he certainly wasn’t trying to attract the cops’ attention. But that action, next to a wall by Lazar’s Bazar, led to Todd being served with an order excluding him from downtown for 90 days.
The exclusion order against Todd was later dropped, but Eugeneans campaigning for an end to Eugene’s Downtown Public Safety Zone (DPSZ), aka exclusion zone, say it’s typical that the ordinance isn’t used for the benefit of public safety. Instead, they say, the police’s ability to ban people from the core of downtown without a court conviction is used to make people like Todd, who is homeless, less visible downtown.
Michael Carrigan of Community Alliance for Lane County says, “We feel that what’s happening with the exclusion zone is a human rights issue, and we’ve found that the human rights of folks that are being excluded are being violated by this program, and it needs to change.”
The Eugene City Council will vote Monday, Feb. 27, on whether to extend the DPSZ or allow it to sunset in April. The program went into effect in 2008 and has already been extended once, in 2010. The cops would like it to be permanent.
Civil rights groups like ACLU of Oregon and the Civil Liberties Defense Center oppose Eugene’s exclusion zone because, they say, being able to punish someone — and to exclude people from public services including Eugene Station and the Dining Room — without due process is unconstitutional.
Included in the 2010 renewal of the DPSZ was a $20,000 taxpayer-funded advocacy program that has gone unused. “Most of the people who have gotten the exclusion order don’t know about the advocacy program or if they call it’s a voicemail,” Carrigan says. “It doesn’t work for the people who need the system to work,” partly because many lack the phone numbers for the advocate to call back.
Councilor George Brown, who owns a store in and who represents the downtown area, has opposed the DPSZ from the beginning and said at a Feb. 17 rally that criminals not jailed for their offenses are going to other neighborhoods, and police data doesn’t prove that the downtown area is safer due to the DPSZ. “I understand the intent, but this is not the way to go about it.”
Some of the 14 pro-extension speakers (of 43 total speakers) at a Feb. 21 public hearing said that they’ve come to feel safer downtown since 2008, when the zone was first enacted. Councilor Betty Taylor said that didn’t necessarily prove a causal relationship, and a safer atmosphere might have been due to other factors. EPD bike patrols have tripled from two officers to six since 2008.
Lieutenant Sam Kamkar of the EPD says, “There is a concentration of criminal behavior in the downtown core,” and when criminal behavior shows up elsewhere, the police must address it. Kamkar says the EPD is working to decrease crime through a multitude of tactics, in a strategy grown out of broken windows theory.
Broken windows theory stems from the concept that vandalism decreases in areas where prior vandalism has been erased, but the 29-year-old theory is not without its critics. Bernard Harcourt’s 2007 study in Criminology and Public Policy found that policing based on broken windows theory has led to disproportionate arrests of African-Americans and Hispanics, and other critics say it has a similar effect on people who are homeless.