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Community debates new chief

Despite all the controversy surrounding the Ashland Police Department and its police chief over the past two years, only about 20 people showed up to voice their concerns about what they want in Ashland's next police chief.

"I had hoped for a larger turnout," Mayor John Morrison said, after a meeting in which consultant Bob Murray, who was hired by the city to hire a new police chief, listened to what citizens would like in a new police chief.

Those that did attend were largely in agreement that Ashland needs a police chief who practices community policing.

"I would like candidates to be able to ... figure out an Ashland way of community policing," said Ralph Temple, who has been active in Ashland police politics lately. A lot of us feel the new chief should be ready to implement [the PERF] report."

The PERF report, which recommends Ashland adopt community policing as its guiding principle, was commissioned by the city after police officers publicly spoke out against former chief Mike Bianca.

Though the mayor and city council have said they will use it as an outline in selecting a new chief, at least one person at the meeting felt too much credence has been given to it.

"If you took the words 'community policing' and 'problem solving' out of it, would go from 80 pages down to 4," Doris Manion, a police volunteer, joked. She said the importance of the PERF report "should be attributed to a very strong and vocal part of the community."

But others said there are local police officers who don't practice community policing. Several people told stories of what some in Ashland call "rogue cops."

Joan Becich said she has been pulled over twice in two years for suspicion of drunk driving. The first time, she said, police handcuffed her when she asked if she could undergo a Breathalyzer. Once she was in the police car, she said officers "went into my car and rifled through my purse." She said she consented to a urine test at the police station, the results of which have never been found.

Tom Marr said the "police force is a part of this community. There needs to be a relationship of mutual respect."

Graham Lewis, president of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, said he agrees with the principles of community policing but added that local police officers have to be free to use force as well.

"Community policing is a lot like working in a school with progressive discipline," he said. "As the need arises, [officers may] need to get more forceful."

Nick Frost, a candidate for city council, said community policing "means we need to have officers comfortable with the entire community, not just specific parts of it."

On the other hand, Nedi Rest, who said she was glad to see Mike Bianca leave his position, said Ashland needs a chief willing to be tougher on crime than Bianca was.

Murray, who will be paid approximately $25,000 for finding a new police chief, said he recommends that the city not put limits on the salary for the next police chief.

"The key is not how many applications you get," he said. "You will attract candidates who identify with your community."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or