The Charlotte City Council’s Community Safety Committee on Wednesday will take up the idea of advancing “public safety zones” or exclusion zones in an effort to bring down criminal activity in high-crime neighborhoods.
The proposal, which has yet to be produced in written form, would ban people arrested in the exclusion zones from returning to the zones for a specified period of time. It has drawn the attention of the ACLU of North Carolina.
“First of all, how do you pull something like this off without infringing on people’s constitutional rights?” asked Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the ACLU of NC, who sent a letter to the committee membership.
Birdsong noted that people have constitutional rights to be in public spaces, or to visit family members and friends. She also said there are due process concerns, such as banning people from neighborhoods before they’ve even been convicted of a crime.
Proposals being voiced would ban people who are arrested in such a zone from returning to it for 90 days. If they pleaded guilty to or were convicted of the crime in court, the ban could be extended to a year.
Birdsong noted that Charlotte tried a similar approach with prostitution a decade ago. People charged with prostitution were banned from returning to the neighborhoods where they were arrested. While the calls for prostitution decreased in those neighborhoods, service calls increased in surrounding neighborhoods, she said.
“There was a reason that they ultimately abandoned the prostitution-free zones,” Birdsong said. “Aside from constitutional concerns, I don’t think this is the most effective policing mechanism.”
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.