A city idea to turn some of Charlotte’s roughest neighborhoods into “exclusion zones” lacks support from key City Council members because of worries about civil liberties and fears that the zones would move crime, not solve it.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department wants to write an ordinance for the council’s community safety committee, which could review the public safety zones late this year or early next year.
The ordinance would prohibit someone arrested inside the zone from returning. A person who pleads guilty or is convicted would be barred from the area for up to a year. Barred people would be able to appeal if, say, they work or take care of family members in the zone.
The proposal is an attempt by the Police Department to get a foothold in some of the most crime-ridden parts of the city, including the Beatties Ford Road corridor and Sugar Creek Road at Interstate 85 in northern Charlotte. Other cities have tried exclusion zones, and Charlotte experimented with a similar zone a decade ago that targeted prostitution-related crimes west of uptown.
But Claire Fallon, a Democrat and chairwoman of the community safety committee, said she doesn’t support the idea and thinks police should try other tactics that don’t restrict the freedom of movement of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime.
It’s terrifying to know that you’re not safe walking on the street, but does that mean that you take people’s rights away?
Claire Fallon, chairwoman of City Council’s community safety committee
“They don’t work,” Fallon said of the zones. “And they take civil rights and human rights away from people. I am so sympathetic. It’s terrifying to know that you’re not safe walking on the street, but does that mean that you take people’s rights away?”
Kenny Smith, a Republican member of the community safety committee, told me he also wasn’t inclined to support the exclusion zones and said they didn’t have a lot of strong backers on the City Council. A chief fear: Criminals would simply migrate to areas that don’t have beefed up enforcement.
“There seems to be lukewarm reception at best for this proposal,” he said. “There seem to be too many issues about whether it’s kicking the can down the street or having the crime relocate. And some people have the perception that shouldn’t all of Charlotte be (a crime) exclusion zone?”
Police say their prostitution exclusion zone in the Camp Greene neighborhood west of uptown created in 2005 had mixed results. Calls to police dropped 35 percent in the two years after the zone was created. But some of the crime was probably pushed to nearby areas. Within a mile of the zones, the number of service calls increased from 182 to 294 – a 62 percent increase.
Fallon said there’s also no guarantee that people already committing crimes would voluntarily stay out of a certain area just because police say so.
“Is having an exclusion zone going to make a difference?” she said. “Not to these guys. Because if it did, they wouldn’t be bad guys in the first place.”