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Time for a discussion

Ashland police and residents have much to gain from it

Ashland Police Chief Mike Bianca is on his way out, for better or worse. The city has in hand a $60,000 report on how it might best approach policing in the community.

What's next? How about a discussion about police that includes residents, city leaders and officers?

Throughout the last year, as Ashland has debated both the chief and the department's approach to keeping the peace, it's been the officers who have expressed leeriness about repeated calls for Ashland to adopt a "community policing" approach to doing business.

Ashland already approaches policing that way, officers have argued. Why put it in writing?

But that was before Friday's release of the seven-month study by the Police Executive Research Forum of Washington, D.C. The report commissioned by the city urged Ashland's department to shift to a community-policing approach that emphasizes dialog, goal-setting and task forces involving residents. The finding came after a lengthy series of interviews with various voices in the community. The mayor and some council members also have endorsed the community approach to policing.

Most everyone has, in fact, aside from the officers.

In fairness, that may because they know they need tools that allow them to enforce the law rather than just talk out every problem. A kinder, gentler cop isn't appropriate in every situation.

But the department has nothing to lose by getting together with the community to discuss how officers do their jobs. In fact, the opportunity here seems to be for the department to gain.

A community discussion would help the department clarify what the community wants. It would give officers the opportunity to explain what they need to do their jobs. We suspect it would reveal that there's not a lot of difference between how Ashland officers usually handle their jobs now and this thing called community policing.

It might go in some strange directions along the way, sure. But in the end the city should end up with a department many residents understand, trust and support.

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If you're stumped a bit, here's a clue: The first three will be on the May 16 ballot for an open position on the Oregon Supreme Court. The following four are running to fill a newly created judgeship on the Jackson County Circuit Court.

Still not sure what you think of them all? Well, here's another clue: Check out the Oregon State Bar's Web site, , where a questionnaire gives voters insights on all of the above judicial candidates, as well as others seeking judicial positions in the state.

The new feature offered by the State Bar helps fill an information gap that often confronts voters when they consider who to support for a court vacancy. Candidates are reluctant to reveal their points of view on hot-button issues, for fear that could force them to recuse themselves from future deliberations. So voters are left to consider their resumes, and not much else.

The State Bar questionnaire stays away from specific issues, but gives a good overview of the candidates' backgrounds, previous legal work and legal philosophies. If you want to be informed when you cast your vote on the judicial races in May, the Web site is a good place to start. After entering , look for the listing titled "Oregon State Bar Judicial Voters Guide to the May Primary."