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March 11th, 2009 Joshua Bolkan | News Stories
 

Smartpark, Dumb Enforcement?

Tom Dehen didn’t know he could be threatened with arrest for walking on city property with a camera and a sketch pad.

     
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EXCLUDED: Why can’t Tom Dehen go into this city garage?
IMAGE: leahnash.com

Tom Dehen didn’t think he was committing a crime when he walked into the city-owned SmartPark Garage at Southwest 9th Avenue and Yamhill Street one morning.

Dehen’s 2002 Honda Civic was being serviced that morning of Jan. 13 at a nearby garage. And Dehen, a 58-year-old landscape artist, thought he’d just walk up the stairs and find a cityscape to sketch while he waited. Then he saw two uniformed men on bikes.

Dehen tried to continue up the stairs, but the men asked him if he had a car in the garage. When he answered no, they stopped him and told him he was trespassing and could be arrested. They wrote him an order of exclusion, saying he couldn’t enter any city-owned parking garage—with or without his car—for 180 days.

One other thing: They weren’t really cops.

They were actually two of about 35 officers from Portland Patrol Inc., a private company that gets $3.7 million a year from the Portland Business Alliance to keep an eye on the city’s seven SmartPark garages (PPI officials won’t specify when their guards, both armed and unarmed, are scheduled to patrol).

PPI enforces rules against such things as drinking alcohol or urinating in the stairwells. And another rule is that persons may not enter the garages unless they have vehicles parked there.

“It’s a tool for us to restrict people who don’t have any business in the garage,” explains PPI chief executive officer John Hren, whose parking-garage officers issued exclusionary orders to 1,261 people in 2008—or about 24 a week. PPI wouldn’t say how many of those were issued to people for entering a garage without having a vehicle parked there.

But even one order like Dehen’s is too much for Dave Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon.

“That’s ridiculous,” Fidanque says. “Who made the decision that pedestrians were not allowed in publicly owned parking garages?”

The garage rules are created by a group that includes representatives from the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Portland police, and PPI, among others.

“I think the businesses appreciate the relationship; I know we do,” says Portland police spokeswoman Detective Mary Wheat. “Anything we can do to have more eyes and ears on the businesses down there is a good thing.”

Dehen agrees with the basic premise of seeking to prevent car theft. But he doesn’t like the idea that private security officers have the authority to act as “judge, jury and executioner” to kick him out of city garages for 180 days without a hearing.

Dehen also worried that an exclusion order could become part of a criminal record and look bad when he tries to get a job in corrections with the state or county.

Hren says the original exclusion order is not a criminal record, just a document indicating that the individual “engaged in behavior not acceptable in the facility.” But somebody found to have violated an exclusion order would be guilty of trespassing and could be arrested.

Dehen lost his appeal to the City of Portland hearings office Feb. 10. Hearings Officer Gregory J. Frank found Dehen raised “no procedural or constitutional issues regarding the issuance of the Notice of Exclusion.” Frank also said Dehen had done nothing intentionally, but that he “simply failed to see a conspicuously posted sign listing the rules of conduct.”

Dehen says PPI should have just let him leave instead of treating him like a criminal for such a small oversight as not seeing a sign.

“It’s the extrajudicial power these guys seem to have that troubles me the most,” Dehen says. “I was tried and sentenced on the spot.”


FACT: Hren says five or six people have appealed PPI exclusions, only one successfully.
 
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