"Exclusion zone" - it sounds like such a great idea. Define certain people as "undesirables," draw a line around the area where you don't want them to go, and tell them that if they're caught in that area they'll be charged with trespassing.
In practice, though, exclusion zones often don't work as well as they do on paper. And they can lead cities that adopt them into a dense thicket of civil liberties issues.
For years, downtown Bend merchants and businesses like the non-profit Arts Central have been annoyed and frustrated by people hanging out in the plaza off Brooks Alley and the breezeway between the alley and Wall Street. They smoke, they sometimes drink, they occasionally panhandle, they sometimes behave obnoxiously toward passersby. There have been more serious reports of drug use, drug sales and vandalism. This situation, some people very reasonably conclude, is not good for business.
To try to fix it, the city is planning to define the plaza, the breezeway and the alley as an "exclusion zone." People who have been charged with certain offenses will be banned from the zone. The range of things that can get you excluded is wide, ranging from assault and sex crimes down to being a minor in possession of tobacco.
Bend isn't the first city in Oregon to try this approach. Portland had an exclusion zone in effect for 14 years before dropping it in 2007 because, among other things, it wasn't effective. Eugene made a 20-square-block area of downtown an exclusion zone in October 2008; the jury seems to be still out on its effectiveness.
Our guess is that the Bend exclusion zone wouldn't work very well. The cops would have to catch people who were on the list and ventured into the zone - tough to do without an almost constant police presence. And we have to wonder whether the threat of a trespassing citation would be enough to scare off the worst offenders.
Finally, if the policy does succeed in driving the undesirables away they'll just go and do their undesirable thing somewhere else. What's the solution to that - making the whole city an exclusion zone?
And then there's the civil liberties question. Since people could get their names on the excluded list just for being charged with certain offenses - not convicted - there's a serious due-process problem.
We're also a little queasy about the whole idea of citing and punishing people just for being somewhere, even if they're not actually doing anything wrong. In our legal system we punish people for what they do, not for who they are.
We sympathize with those folks who want something done, but we think the exclusion zone approach - at least as now written - is the wrong thing to do. More police patrols in the area - maybe augmented by private security guards - probably would be a more effective deterrent and wouldn't raise civil liberties issues.
At a minimum, the city should rewrite the exclusion zone ordinance to require a judge to issue an order before somebody can be put on the banned list. Unless that's taken care of, the ordinance gets THE BOOT.