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Police use-of-force policy up to date

Judging by the information provided in a City Council study session last week, Ashland residents can rest assured their police department is actively working to address concerns raised since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer May 25.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara told council members about changes to the department’s policy manual he instituted in June. At the top of that list: Officers are instructed to deescalate confrontations whenever possible.

That policy will go a long way toward preventing the kind of adrenaline-fueled encounters that too often end with the injury or death of individuals contacted by police officers. A local example was the 2018 shooting death of an unarmed Eagle Point man suffering from mental illness who refused a police officer’s request to stop and talk about the dangers of jay walking across a busy highway.

While a grand jury determined the Eagle Point police officer was justified in shooting Matthew Graves at the end of that incident inside a Carl’s Jr. bathroom, deescalating the situation long before that could have prevented the matter from ever reaching a point where an officer feared for his life.

Another key element of Ashland’s policy manual says officers have a duty to intercede if they see a fellow officer use excessive force, and requires them to promptly report such incidents to a supervisor. That requirement was in place long before George Floyd’s killing brought attention to police use-of-force policies. That puts Ashland ahead of some other departments in the state. Legislators meeting in a special session last month passed a package of police reform bills including a statewide duty-to-intervene requirement.

The Ashland Department also does not use or train in the use of choke holds, according to its policy manual — another technique that was outlawed in the recent special legislative session.

O’Meara told city councilors he is committed to transparency when it comes to department rules. The entire police manual is posted on the Police Department website. The department also posts its annual use of force reports online.