Stop/ID Ordinance in Ashland: Greene Reports

Is Ashland Becoming Arizona?

By Addie Greene

  1. It shall be unlawful for a person to knowingly fail to provide the person’s name and date of birth to a peace officer having probable cause to believe the person has committed a violation. As used in this Chapter, “violation” means an offense described in ORS 153.008.
  2. A person who violates the above Section A of this Chapter commits a Class C misdemeanor.

This is proposed Ashland Ordinance No. 3176, which had its second reading before the City Council Tuesday night. Because the comment period went over the specified end-of-meeting time with not all comments considered, City Council did not vote on the ordinance.

            No. 3176, of course, targets the homeless who hang out in front of the Black Swan Theater and the convenience store at the corner of Pioneer and Lithia. I have no problem if the police officer catches one of those folks (or anyone else) shoplifting, vandalizing someone else’s property, or committing some other crime. The question is, suppose the officer has made an educated guess.

            As one speaker commented, the key words of this proposed ordinance are “probable cause.” Let us look at a possible scenario: A police officer had a very bad night (fight with spouse, hangover, worry about a loved one) and comes to work loaded for bear. She/he stops a lesbian couple fondling each other or a person of color who appears to be smoking a joint. The officer asks for identification, and the person(s) refuse(s). The officer can cite them under No. 3176, which carries a maximum fine of $1250. As another speaker pointed out, many people in marginalized communities cannot afford to pay a fine of that amount.

            As the background information on the proposed ordinance states: This crime would be classified as a Class C misdemeanor which would carry a maximum penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1250. However, ORS 153.008 referenced above states in section (1) (b) “The statute may provide for punishment in addition to a fine as long as the punishment does not include a term of imprisonment.” That stricture is repeated in (1) (c). ORS 153.008 supersedes proposed Ashland Ordinance No. 3176 and thus would disallow jail time for a Class C misdemeanor. So what to do if the cited person has no money and cannot be jailed? Would the “punishment in addition to a fine” (or a substitute for) be community service?

            The first speaker, who identified herself as sociology major, said 40% of police officers nationwide are domestic abusers. This comment so shook Mayor John Stromberg that he commented on the comment, something council members ordinarily do not do.  “The police chief is a person of the highest integrity,” Stromberg said.

            A speaker identifying herself as a member of Jackson County Democrats said the ordinance will target the trans community and is unconstitutional. Another (a Native American) said, “I am very concerned about the harm it will do to my friends and relatives. People of color are affected disproportionally by three times” by such legislation. “That is why they feel unsafe and unwelcome. It will cause unintentional harm.”

            “There is structural racism in this country,” another speaker said. “We live in a country running concentration camps.” And another, “An increase in police authority will not make the community safer. People in this community will be harmed.”

            And finally, the speaker who called “probable cause” the crux of the ordinance, said “It’s not enough to not be racist. We have to be anti-racist. Those of us not affected don’t see it. We must defend civil rights, foster a community of inclusion, and get rid of the probable cause loophole.”

            Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said he consulted with Eugene Trans*Ponder, which describes itself as “a grassroots, completely transgender founded and led nonprofit.” He also got feedback from police in Portland, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Ashland police will be trained in the  enforcement of the proposed ordinance, he said. “We are hitting all the targets the Council asked of us.”

            “Can the ordinance be used to stop targeted people?” Councilor Stefani Seffinger asked.

            “Our ability to stop people will be reasonable grounds that a violation has been committed. Two legal thresholds have to be overcome,” Chief  O’Meara answered. “This is not an attempt to obtain incriminating information.”

            Assistant City Attorney Katrina Brown added, “Can you avoid being cited for a violation by remaining silent? No.”

            “The municipal court is accommodating if there is a financial burden,” Chief O’Meara said. “The person must be educated about a violation (such as the no smoking ordinance), and 50% leave town with a warning.”

            In closing, we should remember Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who used Arizona’s SB 1070 as an excuse to stop and harass anyone who appeared to be Hispanic. Is Ashland following in his footsteps?