New Ashland Police Officers at What Cost and For Whom?

New Police Officers at What Cost and For Whom?

The City’s insistence on hiring five additional police officers is not supported by its own data.  According to budget documents, arrests have been declining for the last ten years.  The number of cases heard by Municipal Court is also declining, as are fine collections.  An interesting side note, reported in the 2017-19 draft budget, prepared by the Municipal Court, states that, even though caseload is declining, staff is busy because of an increase in the number of people they serve with mental health issues; at the same time, collections are down because of an increase in citations issued to people who are unable to pay fines.  The two are obviously related.

The number of violations and criminal cases in Ashland had also been declining, that is until 2015-2016 when the City Council passed numerous ordinances that target the homeless. These cases include lost and found items, dog licensing issues, subject stops leading to outstanding warrant arrests, dog control, suspicious activity (with no further explanation), trespass/prohibited camping, open container violations, other agency assists, intoxication, “case pulled in error” (which ought to be deducted from the total), and smoking in the prohibited areas. Traffic violations have been declining but have never been a serious issue in Ashland to begin with.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara commented during the 2017 budget hearings that what defines a “case” statistically is quite subjective. We agree. On the other hand, crimes reported as “Part 1 cases” are defined by the federal government and submitted annually to the FBI. Over the years, Part 1 crime has fluctuated in Ashland and, in 2016, the number increased.  However, the chief prepared his report to increase staffing needs in July 2016, so he did not have the 2016 numbers on which to base his staffing increase request.

The chief refers to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (DJS) which states the national average ratio of policeman per 1,000 residents should be 1:8.  However, The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) does not recommend sole reliance on data pertaining to population, such as ratios because real world variables are too numerous for generalization.  Regardless, the chief remains undaunted and determined to press for five additional staff.

The ratio of police per 1,000 residents in Ashland is 1:3, Medford is also 1:3, Bend, also a tourist town, is 1:1; Springfield  is 1:2; Gresham is 1:2; Beaverton is 1:4; and Hillsboro is 1:3.  Compared to Ashland, Medford is much more urban and experiences a noticeably higher volume of drug- and gang- related criminal activity. However, Medford has the same 1:3 ratio as Ashland. Medford, with four times the population of Ashland, copes with urban crime and gangs, but maintains the same ratio of police to 1,000 residents as Ashland―1:3.  The most recent annual data reveal that the Medford Police Department processed 7,437 Part I cases. During this same period, Ashland processed 1,006 in total or 829 Part 1 cases within the city limits. This data clearly underscores that Ashland does not need five additional police officers.

During the budget hearings, Chief O’Meara opined that those cities with similar ratios are ‘understaffed.’  If so, either these cities’ governing bodies disagree with the chief’s opinion or recognize that they cannot afford the expense of expanded police staffing. Speaking with knowledge of our budget, we believe Ashland cannot afford to hire and pay for five additional police officers, at a cost to the city of more than a million dollars biennially, without more convincing data to support the chief’s request.

In 2013, four years ago, the City of Ashland hired three additional officers according to budget documents; now the City Council wants to hire five more. The chief also bolsters his claim for additional police officers because of the need for greater police safety. Yet, according to the chief’s Use of Force Report issued every April, Ashland’s officers typically suffer very minor injuries, mostly scrapes. Granted, police work involves inherent risk; however, these risks are well understood by both those in the field and by applicants for those posts. Nothing in the data suggests that Ashland’s officers are at greater safety risk than other communities; this is simply not a valid justification for additional staffing.

We support the chief in his priority to provide training for officers in order to defuse incidents that might escalate into more serious events.  And, while we place high priority on our police officers’ job training, we, as a city, also have to live within our budget.  Minor, single-year fluctuations up or down in crime statistics cannot be used to override budgetary constraints. What is clear is that current circumstances and data simply do not demonstrate an actual necessity for the five additional officers. The City Council’s insistence on inflicting on Ashlanders both increased property taxes and higher utility bills to pay for these additional officers is both unwise and unwarranted.

Attend the July 18 City Council Meeting at 7:00pm to voice your opinion.  Here is what they are considering –

Citizens of Ashland