- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — In an effort to reduce drug dealing around corner convenience stores in residential neighborhoods, a City Council member is pushing for legislation that would give police the authority to temporarily close such businesses.

If Mary Pat Clarke’s bill is approved, Baltimore police would be armed with a power enacted during some of the city’s worst years of drug violence in the early 1990s.

Although some council members expressed reservations about punishing business owners for the activities of people outside their stores, most agree with Mrs. Clarke and community leaders who say such curfews might stem the foot traffic fueling the drug trade in many neighborhoods.

The bill “would target stores in the quiet heart of residential neighborhoods, where it’s easy for customers to get in and out of, but hard for police to patrol,” said Mrs. Clarke, who introduced the measure at a council meeting last month. “This is not intended for stores in active commercial corridors.”

The bill must be reviewed by several city agencies, including the police and law departments, and will be scheduled for a hearing before the council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee.

The measure is similar to a law that was introduced March 9, 1992, and supported by Mrs. Clarke and then-council member Martin O’Malley, who is now mayor. It was imposed for a year, but only applied to stores in designated drug-free zones of the city. Under the earlier law, curfews could only be imposed between midnight and 6 a.m.

The new curfew would apply to businesses on residential streets or those within one block of churches or schools. Stores could be closed for up to six hours a day.

The law would bar the police from imposing the restriction for more than 120 days in a six-month period.

Owners would be given a 30-day notice before a curfew is imposed, giving them time to appeal. When store owners protest, the police commissioner would be required to investigate to determine if they have done enough to discourage loiterers outside their establishments.

Shop owners can avoid the imposition by proving that they provide adequate security or by disproving the assertion that their stores are focal points for drug activities.

The bill, which allows for court appeals, also calls for imposing fines of up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail for stores that violate curfews.

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