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Big jumps in use of force, violent crime

Ashland police used force 29 times in 2016, a 93 percent increase over the 15 times in 2015, but fewer than the 32 times in 2014, Police Chief Tighe O’Meara told the City Council Tuesday during its annual report on use of force by the department.

Increases in "part one" crimes and violent crime from 2015 to 2016 also topped 90 percent. Part one crime was up to 829 reports from 641 and violent crime up to 39 from 20.

Part one crimes — homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, auto theft and larceny — are reported annually to the FBI. Violent crime overlaps with part one. It includes reports of homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Regarding the use of force numbers, O'Meara told the council, “While the decrease in 2015 was noticeable, it appears to have been a variance from the norm.”

Use of force reports, delivered annually since 2008, show there were 28 instances of use of force by the department in 2013 and 41 in 2012.

O'Meara detailed the instances of use of force. A taser was used six times, and one time it was drawn but not used. There was one use of pepper spray and one instance of a bean bag round from a shotgun. There were 15 complaints of injuries due to police contact. Of those, the chief said 13 were minor, “cuts, scrapes and bruises.” Two of the reports were described as pain. There were six reports of officers being injured, with all of the injuries categorized as “fairly minor.”

Suspects were under the influence of drugs or alcohol in 62 percent of the use of force instances, according to O’Meara.

None of the use of force instances were investigated by an outside agency, as there was no need for it, the chief said. “We found nothing inappropriate in looking at body camera video and investigating,” O'Meara stated in response to a question from Councilor Dennis Slattery. “There haven’t been major issues of use of force, so we haven't had an outside review.”

Councilor Greg Lemhouse, a former Medford police officer, told the chief and fellow councilors increased use of force may be interpreted in different ways. “Just because we have more reports of uses of force, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing," Lemhouse said. "A well-trained force reports all incidents.”

The Ashland police department received 799 hours of use-of-force training last year, O'Meara said.

Regarding the 39 violent crimes reported in 2016, 90 percent were solved, according to the chief, saying that “The clearance rate for violent crime is very high.”

Seventeen people were expelled from the city’s Enhanced Law Enforcement Area, a roughly two- by six-block area bounded by Lithia Way on the northeast, Third and Hargadine streets on the southeast, Hargadine Street on the southwest and Winburn Way, Calle Guanajuato and Church Street on the northwest. The ELEA includes the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus, the Plaza, City Hall and most of the downtown core.

Disorderly behavior that can earn expulsion from the ELEA includes having an open container, drinking in public, smoking marijuana, making too much noise, having an uncontrolled or licensed dog, or “scattering rubbish” (urinating or defecating in a public place). If a person is cited more than three times in a six month span they are not permitted downtown for a period of time determined by court order.

The chief described ELEA as a “judicious and equitable tool for downtown.” Asked by Mayor John Stromberg what kind of people were excluded, O'Meara answered that one people who took actions specifically tied to those particular violations. “Other things were left off by design, like prohibited camping. These (actions for exclusion) are overt actions that affect downtown.”

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.