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Lancaster May Put Anti-Drug Plan to the Test

Council is slated to vote on whether to post signs telling probationers and parolees that entering certain neighborhoods could be a violation.

August 12, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

The Lancaster City Council is scheduled to vote on an anti-crime program today that could help make one of the city's most drug-plagued neighborhoods off limits to certain parolees and probationers.

As originally proposed, the Lancaster Community Prosecution Project raised concerns among civil libertarians because it could have applied to all parolees and probationers.

But the plan that comes before the council tonight will focus only on those people who have orders to stay away from drug-plagued neighborhoods as a condition of their parole or probation, said David Berger, the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who formulated the plan.

New signs posted in a target neighborhood would simply advise parolees and probationers that the area is considered one where drug activity takes place, he said. That satisfied Ben Wizner, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, who said the city has a right to post signs that serve as reminders of conditions set by the courts.

"Only the courts can tell parolees and probationers where they can or can't go," he said.

Berger said if the idea proves successful, it could spread to other parts of town, and Lancaster officials hope it will help clean up some of their toughest neighborhoods.

The first target area -- bounded by avenues H-8 and I to the north and south and Cedar and Fig avenues to the east and west -- had 203 reported crimes during 2002, including 113 drug crimes, according to Los Angeles County sheriff's statistics.

In addition to the signs, authorities plan to step up code enforcement in the area and set up a new Neighborhood Watch program. They also hope the council approves another proposed ordinance on tonight's agenda that would allow the seizure of vehicles used in crimes involving drugs, weapons or prostitution.

Berger's plan would also make it a misdemeanor for anyone suspected of drug use or possession to fail to disperse when told to do so by a sheriff's deputy.

Lancaster Vice Mayor Henry Hearns, who said he would most likely vote in favor of the new program, acknowledged that some property owners might worry about the stigma associated with the area's designation as a high-crime zone.

"But it could be a positive, where people could feel like, 'We don't have to be bothered by anybody who is not on the side of right,' " he said.

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