Despite facing “significant constitutional hurdles,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officials want to move forward with a proposal to create areas of the city that would be off-limits to people who have been arrested.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department hopes to write an ordinance for the City Council’s public safety committee, which could review the “public safety zones” later this year.
The safety zones would be modeled after prostitution-free zones created by the city a decade ago.
Here is how they would work: If CMPD found an area where there was an uptick in crime, the police chief could declare it a safety zone. Council members wouldn’t have to approve the zone.
If a person is arrested inside the zone, that person would be prohibited from returning. Within five days, the person could appeal the prohibition, on grounds such as the person is caring for children inside the area or the person lives or works there.
If the person pleads guilty or is convicted, he/she would be barred from the area for up to a year. If the person is found not guilty or if the case is dismissed for any reason, the person can return.
“It’s still up for discussion,” said CMPD Attorney Mark Newbold, about the proposed ordinance.
At a safety committee meeting last week, CMPD discussed a study about the prostitution-free zone that was created in 2005. One of the areas targeted was the Camp Greene neighborhood west of uptown.
In the two years before the ordinance was passed, CMPD received 534 calls for service inside the areas that would become part of the prostitution-free zones. In the two years after the ordinance was passed, the number of calls inside the zones dropped by 35 percent, to 350.
But some of the crime was pushed out to nearby areas. Within 1 mile of the zones, the number of service calls increased from 182 to 294 – a 62 percent increase.
Overall, the number of calls in and around the zones went down.
The city’s prostitution-free zone ordinance has lapsed and is no longer in effect.
In a memo to council members, Newbold said the proposed ordinance would have to reconcile “two core constitutional principles.”
The first could be a freedom-of-association challenge.
Newbold wrote that courts have found that the First and 14th Amendments have protected the right of people to associate. In one 2002 Cincinnati case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that a woman barred from an exclusion zone had the right to visit her grandchildren who lived nearby.
Newbold, however, noted that a 2001 Ohio case said that a drug exclusion zone didn’t interfere with a “fundamental personal relationship nor an association for expressive activity,” according to the police memo.
The other issue, Newbold said, is whether the ordinance would infringe on a person’s right to intrastate travel. He said courts have been mixed on this issue.
“There are significant constitutional hurdles that must be addressed whenever the government decides to regulate movement in a public area,” Newbold wrote. “In the event a court rules that an ordinance affects a fundamental right, then that ordinance will be reviewed with strict scrutiny.”