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Ashland Ordinance Would Allow Police To Demand Name, Birth Date of Rule-Breakers

Ashland Police

Ashland City Councilors will discuss a proposed ordinance Tuesday night that would allow police officers to demand someone’s name and birth date, even if they haven’t committed a crime.

Ordinance 3176 would create a new offense — “Failure to Provide Name and Date of Birth to a Peace Officer.”  Police can ask for that information if they suspect that person of committing a city violation. Under the ordinance, if someone refuses to provide their name and birth date to an officer who requests it, they could be charged with a misdemeanor. That charge could result in hundreds of dollars in fines and weeks in jail.

Some are calling it the "stop and identify" ordinance.

Ashland police say this ordinance would help them do their jobs. Critics say it unfairly targets minority and homeless people.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that “passive resistance” wasn’t a crime; that a police officer can’t arrest someone for not following their orders if they don’t suspect that person of committing a crime.

But some Oregon cities say the McNally case ruling has made it difficult for them to fine people for breaking city rules. These violations aren’t technically crimes in that they’re not misdemeanors or felonies: they’re rules that cities put in place to maintain social order. Things like prohibiting dogs in certain districts or sleeping on sidewalks.

Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said people who violate city rules are increasingly using passive resistance to avoid giving officers their names.

“If I don't have that information because the person refuses to identify himself or herself, then I can't fulfil my role under the city charter that says I need to fill out a complaint, which means a ticket, and forward it to the judge,” O’Meara said.

Lauren Regan, executive director for the Civil Liberties Defence Center, said Ordinance 3176 flies in the face of the state Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling.

“Ashland can't have it both ways,” Regan said. “Either they need to make these offenses misdemeanors and afford the person all the due process protections that correlate to a misdemeanor, or it’s a violation in which case they cannot jail the person.”

Regan added that this ordinance will intimidate people who are undocumented and that it unfairly targets homeless people, who, due to the nature of living in a public setting, are more likely to commit violations such as drinking in public, sleeping on public sidewalks, and public urination.

Ashland City Councilor Dennis Slattery supports the ordinance. He said he expects everyone, whether housed or houseless, to cooperate with city rules, or face the consequences.

“We need to be able to deal with people in such a way that doesn't intrude on other people's right to live peacefully downtown which is what we’re trying to achieve,” Slattery said.

He added that the McNally case unintentionally left a “gap” in state law: That the state Supreme Court simply didn’t account for city violations when it ruled that passive resistance wasn’t a crime.

“In this case, what we’re talking about is someone wants to assert passive resistance after committing a violation,” Slattery said. “I don't think people should be able to do that. I think most people don't think people should be able to do that.”

Slattery said he has spoken to a lot of people who support this proposed ordinance, but he hasn’t spoken to people who are homeless about how they feel about the ordinance.

“We don't make policy based on how people feel about the ordinance,” he said. “This is a policy-making body.”

For Terry Crawford, who is black and who also lives out of his car in Medford and Ashland, the ordinance is a means of allowing police racial profiling, something that Ashland police dispute.

 “People try to cover up the racial issues here,” Crawford said. “But they’re here. I see them, I feel them. I’m 6-foot-5, I weigh 270 pounds. I get a lot of double takes. It's just something you gotta accept.”

Crawford has a list of medical conditions that put him in the hospital for several days at a time, which prevents him from keeping a steady job. Because he doesn’t have a stable income or work history, he can’t compete with other people applying for an apartment. So, he tries his best to lie low. That’s hard to do in Ashland, a town that tends to attract affluent retirees and tourists.

“I make it a point not to look homeless,” Crawford said. “I never carry a backpack, a sleeping bag. I try to stay shaven, keep my hygiene up, look responsible.”

Critics argue that this ordinance will add to Ashland’s existing rift between the housed and houseless. They also say it will send more people to an already crowded jail, thereby draining city resources.

City councilors will have to weigh these costs against what the Ashland police say is a shortcoming preventing them from doing their jobs.

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.