Drug Free Zones
The Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act of 1996 (DC Law 11-270) provides police officers with an additional tool to protect the public from dangers associated with the sale, purchase or use of illegal drugs. The law provides that, while a Drug Free Zone is in effect, it will be unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate in a public space or property in that area for the purpose of participating in the use, purchase or sale of illegal drugs.
A Drug Free Zone may be established by the Chief of Police, provided it meets certain criteria, particularly that there have been a disproportionately high number of drug-related crimes in that area. The Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone will last no more than 240 hours (10 days), and the area will be clearly identified, with signs posted along the perimeter, as well as within the zone. [Note: Originally, Drug Free Zones could last for no more than five days; legislation lengthening the time period to up to 10 days was enacted in July 2006.]
While the area is designated as a Drug Free Zone, any group of two or more persons congregating on public space for the purpose of participating in the use, purchase, or sale of illegal drugs within the boundaries of the zone, and who fails to disperse after being instructed to do so by a uniformed officer of the MPDC, will be subject to arrest. An arrest under the “Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act of 1996” can result in a fine of not more than $300, imprisonment for not more than 180 days, or both.
Current and Upcoming Drug Free Zones
For information on past Drug Free Zone declarations, please submit a request through the Metropolitan Police Department’s FOIA Office.
Criteria for Determining a Drug Free Zone
In determining whether to designate a Drug Free Zone, the Chief of Police shall consider the following:
- The occurrence of a disproportionately high number of arrests for the possession or distribution of illegal drugs in the proposed Drug Free Zone within the preceding six-month period
- Any number of homicides related to the possession or distribution of illegal drugs that were committed in the proposed Drug Free Zone
- Objective evidence or verifiable information that shows that illegal drugs are being sold and distributed on public space on public property within the proposed Drug Free Zone
- Any other verifiable information from which the Chief of Police may ascertain whether the health or safety of residents who live in the proposed Drug Free Zone are endangered by the purchase, sale, or use of illegal drugs or other illegal activity
Designating Drug Free Zone
Once a Drug Free Zone has been declared by the Chief of Police, the MPDC will mark each block within the area by using barriers, tape or police officers. The posted information will contain the following details:
- The boundaries of the Drug Free Zone
- A statement of the effective dates of the Drug Free Zone designation (not to last more than 10 days)
- A statement that it is unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate for the purposes of participating in the use, purchase, or sale of illegal drugs within the boundaries of the Drug Free Zone. Additionally, the postings will state that it is illegal if a group fails to disperse after being instructed to do so by a member of the MPDC who reasonably believes members of the group are congregating for the purpose of participating in the use, purchase, or sale of illegal drugs
Violations of the Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act
Essentially, any group of two or more persons congregating in a Drug Free Zone for the purpose of participating in the use, purchase, or sale of illegal drugs is violating the Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act. Additional circumstances that may be used in determining that a person or group is violating the Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act would include the following:
Conducting oneself in a manner that would lead police to believe that the person is engaging or about to engage in illegal drug activity. Examples of such conduct may include:
- Observable distribution of small packages to other persons
- The receipt of currency for the exchange of a small package
- Operating as a lookout
- Warning others of the arrival of police
- Concealing himself or herself or any object which reasonably may be connected to unlawful drug-related activity
- Engaging in any other conduct normally associated by law enforcement agencies with the illegal distribution or possession of drugs
- Information from a reliable source indicating that a person being observed routinely distributes illegal drugs within the Drug Free Zone
- Information from a reliable source indicating that a person being observed is currently engaging in illegal drug-related activity within the Drug Free Zone
- A person is physically identified by the officer as a member of a gang or association which engages in illegal drug activity
- A person is a known unlawful drug user, possessor or seller, as indicated by a drug conviction within the past two years or the person displays physical characteristics of drug use (for example, “needle tracks”)
- Such person has no other apparent lawful reason for congregating in the Drug Free Zone, such as waiting for the bus or being near one’s own residence
Enforcing the Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act
If a person or persons are in violation of the Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act, they will be informed by an officer that they are in a Drug Free Zone. They will then be informed that they should disperse and depart within a reasonable timeframe, clearly specified in minutes, before any arrests are made.
It is illegal for members of a group to continue to congregate on public space in the Drug Free Zone after being instructed to disperse. Failure to obey the officer’s instruction will result in arrest without a second warning. This holds true if they regroup and continue to congregate in any public space within the boundaries of the Drug Free Zone. Any person who violates the act shall, upon conviction, be subject to a fine of up to $300, imprisonment for up to 180 days, or both.
Acceptable Group Activities
All acceptable group activities are, and continue to be, lawful within the Drug Free Zone. Examples of some activities in which people may participate as a group that do not violate the Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act include:
- Distributing campaign literature
- Collecting names on petitions
- Soliciting community support
- Discussing political or religious topics
- Meetings for other lawful civil or personal associations