Annapolis alderman revises anti-loitering bill

Voluntary application for drug-free zone status considered key change

September 24, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Annapolis Alderman Herbert H. McMillan announced radical changes yesterday in his anti-loitering bill, including an amendment requiring neighborhoods to seek drug-free zone designation before police could enforce it in their communities.

If the bill is approved next month, Annapolitans will have to apply at City Hall for "Drug-Loitering Free Zone" status. Only then could officers ask loiterers suspected of drug activity in the designated communities to move along or face arrest.

McMillan, a Ward 5 Republican, introduced the bill in May after hearing complaints from Neighborhood Watch leaders that police could not move suspected drug dealers from public housing community sidewalks, which are the property of the Annapolis Housing Authority, a private entity.

The American Civil Liberties Union and black community groups protested, arguing that the bill would give police officers carte blanche to harass black people on street corners.

The amendments added by McMillan make "the establishment of a `Drug-Loitering Free Zone' voluntary," the alderman said.

The bill would allow city residents to apply to have areas within 500 feet of their property designated drug-free zones.

The city council would process the application only if the Police Department confirmed three or more arrests for drug activity within the previous two years in the specified area.

If approved, the drug-free designation would last two years.

Several public housing community leaders said at yesterday's meeting that they would request such a designation if the bill passes.

`Safe environment' needed

"I have seven beautiful children, and I would like them to grow up in a safe environment," said Loretta Hall, tenant council president at Robinwood, a public housing community in McMillan's ward. "I'm for the bill."

McMillan's original bill also would have permitted police to ask "known" users, including anyone who had been convicted of drug charges, to move along.

The revised version he unveiled yesterday narrows the definition of "known" user to anyone on probation for or convicted within the previous seven years of drug possession, distribution or use.

The alderman announced the amendments while flanked by Annapolis Housing Authority Director Patricia Croslan, who spoke in favor of the bill.

Croslan said she has heard the same complaints from public housing residents frustrated that police do not have jurisdiction over their neighborhood sidewalks.

McMillan's opponents were unsatisfied.

Lewis Bracy, communications director for the Maryland Forum of African American Leaders, said police officers already have the power to arrest loiterers suspected of dealing drugs if they have proof of illegal activity.

"Any decent police officer who knows about surveillance or undercover drug activity can arrest a drug dealer under current law," Bracy said. "You don't need a new law to make our neighborhoods safe. And besides, how are you going to determine that an ex-drug dealer's on a corner trying to talk somebody out of that life or into that life?"

ACLU counsel's reaction

Dwight Sullivan, ACLU staff counsel, said the amendment still unfairly targets those with drug convictions.

"Let's say I live in Annapolis, and I ask to have 500 feet around my house declared a drug loitering-free zone," Sullivan said. "If the person living next to me happens to have been convicted of a drug offense six years ago, my neighbor no longer has the right to stand outside the sidewalk outside of his own house. It's illogical."

McMillan argued that his bill specifies that police may ask loiterers to move along only if their behavior draws suspicion, for example if they are "repeatedly engaging in conversations with or making hand signals associated with drug activity" to drivers or passers-by.

People with drug convictions could enter such zones and "hang out in their friends' houses, go to barbecues," McMillan said. "The only thing they couldn't do is stand on the sidewalk and wait for cars to come by."

The city council will discuss the bill Wednesday.

"The residents that have spoken to me are very much in favor of this," Croslan said. "I think this can be very beneficial to public housing communities, and if it is helpful to public housing, in turn, it will make the city a better place to live."

Pub Date: 9/24/99

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