EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- The Eugene Police Department (EPD) is proposing a new element to the downtown public safety zone, or exclusion zone, ordinance in hope of having it renewed.
The department is proposing that private attorneys be hired by the city to help those who’ve been excluded. By initial estimates, the move could cost the city about $15,000.
Chief Pete Kerns pitched the idea to Eugene City Council on Monday night, September 10, 2012, in an effort to address concerns about the exclusion zone ordinance being a possible violation to people's right to due process.
Eugene’s exclusion zone spans several blocks downtown. Eugene Police created it four years ago with the idea of addressing problematic behavior in the downtown core due to the lack of beds for offenders at the Lane County Jail.
The ordinance works by way of a couple different steps. First, if someone is cited by police or accused of violating one of around fifty different state laws, EPD can write an exclusion request. The request bars that person from the downtown core for ninety days. Each request must be reviewed by a municipal court judge before it takes effect. Requests can be approved before the person goes to trial for the alleged offense.
If someone is proven innocent, the exclusion goes away. If they’re proven guilty, police can then pursue a one-year exclusion.
In response to complaints about navigating the exclusion zone hearing process, the city created a full-time advocate. In almost two years, no one has used that advocacy program.
EPD hopes that with attorneys, advocacy will change.
“The attorney, as an officer of the court, has a sense of duty and responsibility to their client to do what's reasonable to ensure they're represented in there. They also know how to access their clients when they're in jail and other places, so I just think the representation would increase because rather than relying only on the defendant to be represented, there would be another person to help with that,” says Chief Pete Kerns of the Eugene Police Department.
The Eugene City Council is considering the new attorney proposal along with other options. There’s also an idea of getting rid of the ninety-day exclusion altogether and just keeping the one-year exclusion for people who’ve been convicted of crimes.
Eugene Police is hoping to extend the exclusion zone for another two years. It is due to expire November 30th. A vote is scheduled on its future at a Eugene City Council meeting on October 8, 2012.