Annapolis takes aim at `drug loiterers'

ACLU vows to fight prohibitions meant to curb narcotics trade

February 15, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

The nine-member Annapolis city council voted unanimously yesterday to designate the Newtowne Twenty housing development as a "drug-loitering-free zone" -- the state capital's first application of a disputed law passed last year.

Dwight Sullivan, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, has said he will file a lawsuit within a week, asking a judge to rule the law unconstitutional.

The anti-loitering law, which the council narrowly approved in October, allows Annapolis neighborhoods to apply for "drug-loitering-free zone" status. If the designation is granted, the ordinance gives police wider discretion to act against loiterers in these communities. The ordinance bars known drug offenders -- those convicted of drug possession, distribution or use in the past seven years -- from loitering in the designated communities.

Police officers can also move along people they suspect are dealing drugs within the communities. The "drug-loitering-free zone" designation remains in force for two years and can be renewed.

Residents of Newtowne Twenty, one of Annapolis' 10 public housing complexes, applied for the designation last year because of excessive loitering and drug dealing in the neighborhood off Newtowne Road. Many complained that it wasn't safe at night and that they feared for the safety of young children living in the neighborhood.

Anita Tyler, former president of the Newtowne Twenty Residents Council, said children were picking up needles and condoms on the playground and often had to maneuver through a crowd of young adults when they got off the school bus.

Crowds gather at the bus stop and outside the Recreation Center around the telephone booths, she said. In the summer months, she said, people are out all day and night.

But teen-agers and young adults in the neighborhood argued that the law gives police too much power.

Annapolis Police Chief Joseph Johnson confirmed three or more drug-related arrests in the area within a 24-month period, which is a requirement for communities seeking the designation.

Sullivan said the anti-loitering law is unconstitutional, specifically the sections that prohibit behavior commonly associated with drug activity, such as making certain hand signals to drivers or passengers of passing vehicles, and that ban convicted drug users, possessors, sellers or buyers from remaining in the area.

The ACLU also plans to request an injunction against applying the law in other neighborhoods.

The council introduced resolutions to designate the Robinwood neighborhood, the area within 500 feet of 24 Pleasant St. and the area within 500 feet of 1003 Monroe St. as "drug-loitering-free zones."

The council also introduced a resolution to develop a plan for a mixed-use facility at Colonial Avenue and West Street. The plan would include a parking study on Inner West Street by Desman and Associates, parking/shuttle strategies and the formation of a Development Program Objective Committee to study the project and make a recommendation to the council.

"This is just a guide," said Louise Hammond, one of five aldermen to introduce the resolution. "This is how the city is going to proceed putting together a mixed-use place for that property."

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