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Crime numbers continue positive trend

Ashland police used force 25 times in 2018, up from 13 incidents in 2017, police Chief Tighe O’Meara said Tuesday at his annual use-of-force presentation to Ashland City Council.

He said four instances involved use of a Taser. No uses were reported of a baton, pepper spray, or shotguns loaded with a bean bag.

He explained that there’s a wide range of force options, including putting someone in an arm lock, threatening to use a Taser or shoving someone to the ground. Use of force doesn’t necessarily mean that a weapon was used.

Three instances resulted in officers receiving minor injuries. Nine cases resulted in minor complaints from a prisoner, and none required medical care, O’Meara said.

He said 28% of incidents involved an intoxicated individual, and 44% of the incidents occurred at night.

Last year Ashland police handled more than 29,000 calls for service and generated 3,831 case reports. That means that use of force occurred in .6% of cases in 2018, O’Meara said.

“If you compare the 25 instances of the use of force to the 29,000 calls for service, the number becomes so small that it becomes statistically insignificant,” O’Meara said.

He said officers received 746.5 hours of use-of-force training last year.

He said the department’s Use of Force Review Board looks at all incidents, and in all of the cases in 2018, use of force was found to be within policy.

O’Meara also reported Tuesday that the city’s crime rate has decreased to decrease.

In 2018, 743 Part 1 crimes were reported, down from 799 in 2017, and 886 in 2016. Part 1 crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, auto theft and larceny. Part 1 crimes are used to determine overall crime rates.

Clearance rates, or the completion of a case, for Part 1 crimes were at 45%.

Violent crimes were also down. In 2018, 31 violent crimes were reported, and in 2017 there were 40. Violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Clearance rates for violent crimes were at 78%, which is very high, O’Meara said.

“Our averages are a lot better than the national averages,” O’Meara said.

Downtown negative behavior has diminished, as well. O’Meara explained that the city adopted an ordinance in 2012 that allows a person to be expelled from the downtown area if they are convicted of three or more crimes in Ashland Municipal Court within a six-month period. The area is called the ELEA, or Enhanced Law Enforcement Area.

Qualifying convictions include scattering rubbish, unnecessary noise, dog control required, consumption of alcohol, open container of alcohol, dog license required or use of marijuana in public.

In 2018, 215 ELEA violations were recorded at Municipal Court and six people were expelled from the downtown area.

In 2017, 359 ELEA violations were noted, and 15 people were expelled from the downtown area.

When people are expelled, it is essentially a no-trespassing order set by a Municipal Court judge, with exceptions if the individual works downtown or is seeking employment, etc.

“The ELEA continues to be a valuable tool to address chronic negative behavior,” O’Meara said.

Mayor John Stromberg asked whether the program has been successful in getting people to stop trespassing.

O’Meara said he has seen people on the expulsion list get off the list and not participate in as much negative behavior downtown.

Councilor Rich Rosenthal asked whether O’Meara could pinpoint a single strategy that caused the crime decrease in the ELEA.

O’Meara said the decrease in downtown crime stemmed from a combination of tools the council has made available to police over the last several years.

“I don’t contribute it to any one tool,” O’Meara said. “The council has given us a lot of really good tools, including the ELEA, the smoking ban, the jail bed rental program and the Gateway program. All of these things come together, and for the last couple of years ... have sent the negative behaviors in a declining direction.”

O’Meara said the best metric to use to determine the amount of negative downtown behavior is the number of calls for disorderly behavior downtown, which include cases such as drinking in public, theft and fighting.

This year, 72 disorderly behavior calls were recorded downtown, down from 74 in 2017 and 111 in 2016.

Councilor Julie Akins asked whether the negative behaviors downtown have migrated elsewhere in the city.

“Arguably they have, and that’s something that I still haven’t managed to find a clever way to keep an eye on,” O’Meara said. “Some of them may have been displaced to the skate park or to Ashland Creek Park, and so that is something that we’re trying to get a look at.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

File photoMatthew Carpenter of the Ashland Police Department patrols downtown.