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Downtown Ashland seeing fewer police calls

Two years after downtown Ashland was declared an enhanced law-enforcement area, with an increased police presence in that area, the Ashland Police Department is seeing a decrease in calls downtown.

The city established the enhanced law-enforcement area and a persistent violators policy in August 2012. People can be banned from downtown for three months if they commit three offenses — such as drinking in public, public urination, assault or harassment — in a six-month period. Those who violate the ban can be arrested and taken to the Jackson County Jail in Medford.

There have been 12 persistent violator arrests this year, and five of them came in September. The same nine-month period in 2013 also saw 12 arrests.

APD's Deputy Chief Tighe O'Meara cites two reasons for the uptick in arrests in September.

"As the program continues, more people will make it onto the list," he says. "In addition, we've been putting more resources downtown in response to the late summer complaints at the Black Swan."

Ashland usually sees an increase in its transient population during July and August as people travel through town on their way to festivals such as Burning Man or the Oregon Country Fair near Eugene. Jackson Wellsprings also holds similar festivals, such as Prana Fest and the Peace Village Festival during this time. Groups usually stay in town for a couple days or a week before moving on to the next festival.

"For whatever reason, we had a particularly abrasive group who stuck around," O'Meara says.

Despite the recent increase in complaints downtown, APD has recorded an overall decrease in calls since the policy was enacted.

January to August of 2013 had 176 calls, approximately a 19-percent decrease from the 216 calls during same period in 2012.

And the same period this year saw 128 calls, a 27-percent decrease from the same period in 2013.

"The drop in calls come from a lot of different reasons," O'Meara says. "We had the ELEA enacted, but we also started our cadet program, where cadets are primarily used in downtown, and we have increased officer presence downtown.

"I wouldn't say that we can point to one specific thing as a reason for the decrease. Everything seems to be coming together to make a positive impact."

APD is currently going through an evaluation of its downtown approach for a Nov. 3 City Council study session.

"We're looking at what additional steps we and other partners can take," O'Meara says. "It's not just a police issue. We want to look at what we can do to work with business partners and Oregon Shakespeare Festival to continue to improve the quality of life in the downtown area."

APD will continue to evaluate its needs, especially in the downtown area, regularly.

"We're always going to look at what tools we can use in response to these quality-of-life issues," O'Meara says. "In response to the group near the Black Swan this summer, we wanted to make sure we maintained a strong presence downtown. Now that group has moved on, and downtown is quieter. We can evaluate what worked and what we can do to lessen issues if this arises in the future."

Email reporter Ian Hand at ihand@dailytidings.com or call him at 253-722-4071. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IanHand_DT.