Ending the Exclusion Zone

For five years, Eugene’s Downtown Public Safety zone exclusion ordinance allowed police to bar members of the community from the city center, without due process.  About half the people excluded during that time were homeless.

–Eugene Weekly.  Dec 5, 2013

Eugene’s Downtown Public Safety Zone, otherwise known as the “exclusion zone.”  was initiated as a temporary ordinance by the City Council in 2008 as a response to elevated crime levels and a lack of jail beds.  The rationale was that the City didn’t have the ability to lock up “chronic offenders” who otherwise should be in jail, and the exclusion zone was a way to keep these offenders out of the core of downtown.

The ordinance was controversial from the start, mainly because it allowed a judge to exclude someone prior to actually convicting them for the crime of which they are accused.  Despite the controversy, the ordinance was renewed in 2010 with little opposition, and was up for renewal again in 2012.

The Eugene Police Department had proposed that the ordinance be made permanent, but the Council had tentatively decided to extend the temporary ordinance another tow years.  Although the ordinance was intended to keep serious criminals out of the downtown area, there were growing concerns that the DPSZ was being used to target “undesirable” individuals that the police or local business owners did not want downtown, such as the homeless and indigent.

Not long after the Occupy camp closed in December 2011, activists, who would go on to found Nightingale Public Advocacy Collective, became aware of instances where homeless individuals were served exclusion notices for petty crimes such as marijuana consumption and leaning against a building.  Among those affected was a homeless man who had been a part of the camp.  Upon learning of these abuses of the DPSZ law, activists joined forces with other organizations that opposed the exclusion zone, such as the Community Alliance of Lane County, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Civil Liberties Defense Center.  WE spoke to city councilors, the Mayor, the affected parties, and made it known to both city government and the general public that the DPSZ law was being misused.

NPAC provided both anecdotal and statistical information that raised serious doubts as to the effectiveness and fairness of the DPSZ.  Due i large part to the efforts of both the NPAC activists of the proposed two year extension that was originally sent to pass.  Nightingale activists continued to work to ensure that the DPSZ sunset for good, which finally came about in December of 2013.

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