“If you are elected as the mayor of Ashland, what action would you take to reform Jackson County’s jail and Sheriff's office to reduce excessive force? “
This is the question for which David Wick and the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission has requested an answer for a column in the newspaper. He’s asked me because I serve on the Ashland City Council and I’m running for mayor.
To me, while I appreciate the question and am answering it, I think it does not go far enough. We need to ask as residents and policy makers in Ashland--what role do we want the police to take in our daily lives and the life of our community in general?
Inherently, any use of public money must go to benefit all members of the public.
So as we examine policing, it’s fair to ask ourselves about the benefits and costs. The benefits are many. We wouldn’t want to think that there will be no one to enforce rules of the road or crime in our community. According to the Ashland Police Department there were 793 part one crimes in 2019, the most recent report, and we certainly want police officers there to address and deal with them.
But many things occur which aren’t crime, yet we have no one to call for basic wellness or mental crisis--so the police arrive. It’s not their training nor expertise but they do their best.
I’ve been thinking about community policing and the need for new models for years.
I once organized a training for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department about Transgender contact with police agencies and how traumatic it can be. And, I thought about it recently when the Oregonian broke a story about a young Oregon Shakespeare Festival Actor who was arrested in Ashland and, according to his account, was brutalized in the Jackson County jail.
I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen the tape of him being detained in Ashland. He wasn’t committing a crime so I have to wonder--did he need to be handcuffed and taken to the jail despite his clear request not to be? Couldn’t a ride to the police station and a water bottle have been more helpful to a non violent, non crime committing, intoxicated person? But there was no one there to make that suggestion. Maybe there should have been.
Ashland has ordinances and a right to keep order for its citizens. So how do we strike a balance?
As Mayor of Ashland I would have no jurisdiction over the jail nor the sheriff’s department. That is the job of the county. But I would have some influence over how people wind up in jail from Ashland. Depriving people of their liberty needs to be a last resort.
Fortunately, there is another way like the much celebrated CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets).
As of 2019 CAHOOTS was working with Olympia, Denver, Oakland, New York City, Indianapolis, Portland, Austin, and Chicago to help implement similar programs. The program was founded in Eugene in 1989.
It’s time we consider this model. The Ashland Police Department is funded at roughly eight million dollars annually. I feel convinced the Police could accomplish a CAHOOTS model with no budget increase.
Most crimes in Ashland are not violent crimes. In the case of violent crime we absolutely need our armed and trained police officers. But armed officers are not the right responders to all situations. Police generally are trained to deal with crime, not mental health situations. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, VA, at least 25% of people killed in police encounters have serious mental illness.
No one benefits from that sad statistic: not the officers, the person killed nor their families and communities. We shouldn’t go down a road which has shown itself not to work.
Police need to be able to do their jobs: Preventing and solving crimes. For mental health issues and simple ordinance violations there are better answers and other communities are showing us the way. I’ve included a few links to articles where other ideas are being used.