Friday, October 19, 2001

City considers fight for exclusion-zone law

Appeal would go to U.S. Supreme Court

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati officials are mulling whether to appeal the Ohio Supreme Court's rejection of a law intended to curb drugs in Over-the-Rhine.

        The city could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to tackle the drug-exclusion zone issue. The 1996 law that allowed police officers to arrest convicted drug offenders if they were spotted back in the neighborhood within 90 days also attacked innocent behavior, the chief justice wrote in a 6-1 decision.

        “We're going to evaluate it and see what we think we should do,” said Bob Johnstone, deputy city solicitor.

        City Councilman Phil Heimlich, who proposed the ordinance, said he will urge city officials to appeal.

        He said he thinks it's a novel issue for the nation's highest court to take up because other jurisdictions still use similar laws. He modeled Cincinnati's law after one in Portland, Ore., where he said it continued to be an effective tool for police.

        Residents in other city neighborhoods have asked for similar ordinances to help them, Mr. Heimlich said.

        Capt. Greg Snider, commander of District 1, which includes Over-the-Rhine, said the decision won't have any impact on crime-fighting since officers already had stopped enforcing it. They stopped after the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio declared the law unconstitutional last year.

        Officers also have stopped enforcing similar laws that allowed them to keep convicted sex offenders from returning to parks and to take convicted prostitutes to jail if they appeared back in Over-the-Rhine.

        The change has made it more difficult to catch prostitutes because many know the undercover officers, said spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd, former supervisor of the vice unit.

        “Back then, that didn't matter,” he said. “If they were there and they weren't supposed to be, they could be arrested. We used it quite a bit.”


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