ANAHEIM — Responding to complaints that Anaheim's parks are havens for illegal drug activity, the City Council is considering an ordinance that would ban convicted drug offenders from city parks.
"We have a serious intimidation and public health problem with drug dealers and users in our parks," said Steve Swaim, coordinator of the city's Gang and Drug Program who helped draft the proposed law. "We view this as a way to create a safer environment for those who lawfully use the parks."
Drug offenders would be prohibited from stepping foot in any of the city's 40 parks for up to three years after their conviction or release from custody. The proposed law, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, would apply to anyone convicted of selling drugs, possessing drugs for sale or, if the offense occurred in a park, possessing drugs.
The ordinance will be introduced to the council at today's meeting, but already questions have been raised about its constitutionality.
"To ban a person before they actually do something wrong is unconstitutional," Rebecca Juardo, an assistant professor at Western State University College of Law and a former staff attorney for the ACLU, said Monday. "How can they tell by looking at someone that they have been convicted of a drug offense?"
Juardo said she believes the ordinance is similar to Costa Mesa's attempt to drive out day laborers by prohibiting them from congregating on certain streets, and Westminster's effort to crack down on crime by prohibiting known gang members from associating with each other. Both cities' ordinances were declared unconstitutional after court challenges.
City Atty. Jack L. White said police officers would not indiscriminately ask people if they are drug offenders. Police would only question those they recognized as past drug offenders or those stopped on suspicion of crimes, he said.
The city attorney said he believed the ordinance is constitutional but expects it will be challenged by people "who place the interests of drug offenders above the child and families who want to lawfully use the park. . . . I think we're on the right side and I hope the courts agree."
The problem of drug dealing and drug use in city parks has become a major issue among many residents and community groups in recent years. A majority of council members interviewed Monday said they favored the ordinance.
"Every week we get letters and calls from people about the problem in the parks," Councilman Irv Pickler said. "We need to do whatever we can to combat (drugs in the park) so people can start enjoying parks the way the were meant to be used."
Mayor Tom Daly said the city "views this ordinance as a means to make parks safer and hopefully more attractive to Anaheim families."
To draw attention to the problem, a group called Somebody dumped nearly a ton of manure in one park last February and said they hoped the stench would drive the drug dealers out of the park. The stunt received national attention, but didn't seem to have any lasting impact on drug activity.
Harald Martin, a police officer who organized the manure drop, said he supported the proposed ordinance, but was concerned that it might be difficult to identify a convicted drug offender.
"It's not like they have 'Drug Offender' tattooed in neon on their heads," he said. "I just hope this helps. The problem out in our parks is getting worse."
In a memo to the city attorney, Interim Police Chief Jimmie D. Kennedy said the proposed ordinance "would be a useful and beneficial enforcement tool . . . to assist us in preserving a safe and drug free environment for the public."
Violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor and offenders could face a maximum six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Times Staff Writer Terry Spencer contributed to this story.