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No magic bullet

An ordinance that would give Ashland police a little more leverage over small-time violators sounds reasonable enough after discounting the misinformation swirling on social media. It’s understandable that officers are frustrated by their inability to write citations when subjects won’t give their names and dates of birth. But it’s not clear the ordinance would help that much.

The impetus for the proposal is a 2017 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that said passive resistance to orders from law enforcement is not enough for a charge of interfering with a police officer. Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara says officers cannot cite someone who has violated a city ordinance if the individual won’t identify themselves.

First, let’s dispense with the misinformation. This is not a “stop and frisk” or a “papers, please” ordinance. Nor would it empower police to ask for name and birth date based only on suspicion of a violation. City Attorney Dave Lohman says the ordinance requires the officer to have probable cause to believe a violation has occurred — a higher standard than “reasonable suspicion.” In other words, an officer who witnesses someone drinking alcohol in public can’t write a citation without the person’s name and birth date. The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to refuse to provide it.

But a citation is no guarantee the person will show up in court. And if a person refuses and is arrested, the overcrowded county jail isn’t going to hold them for long.

Our suspicion is that officers’ frustration will continue.

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