The conflict between City Commissioner Randy Leonard and Police Chief Rosie Sizer has moved to an unlikely new arena—the prostitute-lined corner of Northeast 82nd Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.
Cops and neighbors say prostitution has exploded along Northeast and Southeast 82nd Avenue since the City Council let drug- and prostitution-free zones expire last year.
While the trouble extends south to the Clackamas County border, it's centered on the intersection with Northeast Sandy Boulevard, they say.
"There are ladies walking the street in front of schools, grocery stores and fast-food restaurants where young people gather," says Ken Turner, chairman of the Eighty-Second Avenue of Roses Business Association. (The group's name reflects a desire to overcome the scuzzy reputation that many associate with 82nd.)
"It should be an embarrassment that this is going on," Turner says.
But Sizer and Leonard—an ex-firefighter presumed to be Mayor-elect Sam Adams' choice to take over as police commissioner next year—have so far differed on how to tackle the problem. It's become the latest dispute in the ongoing power play between two of the city's best-known public officials (see "Randy & Rosie," WW, July 30, 2008, and "Snubbed?" WWire, Aug. 8, 2008.).
For 15 years, the city sported drug-free zones and prostitution-free zones where people arrested or cited for those crimes were excluded from returning for 90 days. The council—following the lead of Mayor Tom Potter, who manages the Police Bureau—let the zones in downtown, North Portland and East Portland expire last September, after data indicated police were disproportionately targeting blacks.
Last month, Sizer told Potter that she wanted to bring back a prostitution-free zone along Northeast and Southeast 82nd Avenue to battle a rise in streetwalkers on a strip otherwise known for its Chinese restaurants, low-rent motels, strip malls and used-car lots.
Leonard, who opposed the zones on grounds that they merely pushed crime elsewhere and punished people before they were convicted, has a different plan. He wants to land on 82nd with a policing model that he says led to a 31-percent reduction in downtown crime and drove dozens of the city's worst repeat criminals out of town or into treatment.
That multipronged approach uses intensive on-the-street policing to put pressure on chronic culprits. Once arrested, they're kept in jail and given the option of getting out if they agree to seek help for drugs, alcohol or mental illness.
The pioneer of that approach is Officer Jeff Myers, who is often held up by Leonard as a model of community policing. Leonard wants Myers and two of his supervisors to help jump-start the program along 82nd, using officers recruited from East and Southeast precincts. It's unclear whether expanding the program would cost more than the $200,000 in overtime already approved to fund it downtown and in inner Northeast Portland.
The eastside team would target prostitutes, pimps and johns. The prostitutes would be encouraged to seek treatment in a new program run by Volunteers of America, which got $250,000 in city money this year.
Leonard says his approach will help take women off the street for good, rather than simply driving them off 82nd Avenue with a prostitution-free zone. As for pimps, he says, "[their] lives are going to become very uncomfortable. And the johns' lives are going to become very uncomfortable."
Potter called a meeting in his office last Thursday, Aug. 7, after it became clear Leonard and Sizer were at odds on the issue. With Myers' help, Leonard says he persuaded Potter and the other cops present to try his way. But Potter deferred the final decision to Sizer, who was not at the meeting.
Sizer referred WW's questions to East Precinct Comdr. Mike Krebs, who did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The prostitution that's sprung up along 82nd includes underage girls and women trafficked between states by organized gangs, Leonard says. Many are addicted to drugs and beaten if they disappoint their pimps.
"The truth is a lot different from the fantasy," Leonard says. "It is a living hell—not the romanticized version of a woman making a lot of money doing what she chooses to do."
One skeptic of Leonard's plan is "Pleasure," a 37-year-old transvestite working the street last Friday afternoon near 82nd and Sandy.
Charging WW $20 for a five-minute interview (significantly cheaper than what Pleasure says is her usual $50 fee for sex), Pleasure said it's the money—not drugs or alcohol—that has kept her in the business for more than 20 years.
"I don't care what program you make—you'll never stop prostitution," Pleasure said. "It's the world's oldest profession, and it's never going to go anywhere."
A neighborhood coalition called Take Back 82nd Avenue