Ashland police in 2021 used force about the same number of times as in 2020, despite the city’s overall downward trend in crime.
The department also struggles with issues of race and equal treatment in policing, according to a report Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara gave to the City Council on Tuesday.
Ashland officers used force 22 times in 2021, compared to 21 times in 2020, O’Meara said in his annual presentation on the police department’s use of force.
All incidents were reviewed by a use-of-force board and found to be within the department’s use-of-force policy, he said.
The 22 people against whom force was used were all white and 21 were male, according to the report. In most incidents, officers used open-hand techniques, such as wrestling. The second most common tactic for Ashland police was to brandish a Taser.
“The Taser was used but not deployed in six situations. The Taser can be shown and the electric arc can be demonstrated as a means of achieving compliance,” O’Meara said.
In one case, he said a gun was pointed at a suspect, while pepper spray was used twice.
In 2021, Ashland saw 421 crimes that O’Meara called “part one crimes” — homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, auto theft, arson and theft. In the previous year, 452 crimes of this type were registered.
Downtown Ashland continues to be a focus for the department.
“The center is … a focal point for a lot of behavior, good and bad, in the city of Ashland,” O’Meara said.
Disorderly behavior, he said, such as drinking or urinating in inappropriate places, has decreased in downtown Ashland. In 2021, there were 137 calls for this type of behavior, which O’Meara balanced with a high in 2017 of 360 calls.
Decreases in overall reported crimes can be compared, O’Meara said, to the department’s clearance rate — the measure of how often a police department solves reported crimes. Ashland’s violent crime clearance rate, according to the report, was 63 percent last year.
Discussion of the report focused on the police department’s work on equity and inclusion with testimony from Ashland resident Emily Simon, a defense attorney.
Simon said he has been working with O’Meara on racial disparity in Ashland policing for years. Simon thanked O’Meara for her open and transparent work and for establishing a departmental liaison with the Black Alliance and social empowerment group known as BASE.
But, she said, she and O’Meara still have a “philosophical disagreement” over the 5 percent rate of black people stopped by police in the city of Ashland, a number Simon believes is too high. O’Meara argues that the number is a statistical over-representation.
“There are very few black people living in Ashland, there’s no doubt about that,” O’Meara said, citing a statistic that says 1 percent to 2 percent of the city’s population is black.
O’Meara reminded the City Council of an Oregon State Police mandate that Oregon police departments report all traffic stops and track the careers of the citizens involved. This is where overrepresentation occurs, he argued.
“When police officers initiate a stop, when they complete that stop, they have to record several things. Among them, what is perceived, and this is a big part of it, is the perceived race and the perceived gender of the unemployed person,” O’Meara said.
In his view, he said, because an officer’s data collection only leaves room for one race, while many people identify as two or more races and officers are expected to guess the race of the person instead of asking, the number is a statistical overrepresentation. , O’Meara said.
Also, Ashland is a college town, a tourist town and a town on the Interstate 5 corridor, the chief said, creating constant turbulence between who’s in town and who’s being laid off.
O’Meara stated a personal commitment and focus for his department to treat everyone in Ashland fairly to the best of the officers’ abilities.
“I think Chief O’Meara will do everything within his power to reduce the unnecessary stops of black people in the city of Ashland,” Simon said, “whether that number is a statistical overrepresentation or not.” .
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.