City studies ordinance that would help police in fight against illegal drug activity

On Monday, City leaders talked about an ordinance that would hand the Auburn Police Department a new weapon in the fight against illegal drug activity.

A “Stay Out of Designated Area,” or SODA, ordinance.

The ordinance proposes to identify specific areas of the city known for drug problems and subject them to an anti-drug emphasis. It would allow judges to issue SODA orders to people convicted of drug-related crimes. And during the interval that a SODA order is in effect, the new rules would allow police to arrest any person violating the order on suspicion of a gross misdemeanor.

While the ordinance may result in additional prosecution to address illegal drug activity, City Attorney Dan Heid noted in a write-up accompanying the proposed legislation, it would give police a tool they don’t have today. Heid said it would be “advantageous” for the city, the police and neighbors to restrict offenders from returning to those areas, excluding, of course, cases where the violator lives within one of them.

Heid’s office modeled the proposed ordinance after similar code provisions in cities throughout the state, including Tacoma, Everett, Lakewood and Marysville. Checking with prosecutors in some of the jurisdictions, Heid said, the consensus was that a SODA ordinance is a valuable tool for police, prosecutors and courts.

The drug emphasis areas, including all City parks, are roughly defined as: the downtown area; the Muckleshoot Casino; the Outlet Collection Mall; all City park property; the south end; the Interurban Trail: the White River Trail; and the Lakeland Linear Trail.

What happens when the person in question lives in the emphasis area, Council member Yolanda-Trout Manuel asked Heid at Monday’s study session at City Hall.

“Courts tend to be reluctant to tell somebody they cannot go home. But if you don’t live there, you can be ordered as a condition of a previous violation to stay out of that area. It may not be a perfect tool across the board in every situation because you really don’t want to say, ‘Hey, you may be paying rent or you may have all your belongings there, but you can’t go back.’ That’s not what courts have been comfortable doing,” Heid said.

Heid said that the emphasis areas need not be posted; what matters is that the person who’s been convicted of a drug crime is court-ordered to stay away from an area, and his or her court order spells out where that area is.

The legislation comes before the Auburn City Council for approval on Monday.

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