Ashland is pondering downtown exclusions

Ashland police estimate that about a dozen people per year could be affected by a proposed three-strikes-and-you're-out downtown exclusion zone.

The City Council is set to consider the exclusion zone proposal in early June.

People who committed three or more qualifying offenses in a six-month period could be barred from downtown for three months. If they were caught back there during that time, they could be arrested for trespassing and taken to the Jackson County Jail in Medford.

The offenses — such as consuming alcohol in public, prohibited camping in public places, unnecessary noise, public urination, assault and harassment — would have to be committed downtown for the rule to kick in.

In estimating how many people could be affected, police Chief Terry Holderness said his department looked for people who had committed five or more offenses downtown in 2011, with at least three occurring within a six-month window.

Police counted about 13 people with five or more downtown offenses last year, Holderness said.

The exclusion zone rule would not be retroactive.

Holderness said he hopes an exclusion zone would prompt repeat troublemakers to behave downtown.

Many ignore their citations because they have no intention of paying their fines in Ashland Municipal Court, he said.

"They get a large number of citations because their attitude is, 'So what?' Our goal is to not have to deal with anyone being affected by an exclusion zone because they've stopped committing violations," Holderness said. "That would be our hope. Whether that happens or not, we'll have to see."

While police estimate about a dozen people could be affected by the exclusion zone, far more than that repeatedly violate laws in Ashland, according to data the Ashland Daily Tidings received after a public records request.

At least 60 people allegedly committed three or more qualifying offenses throughout Ashland in 2011, according to a list of people cited last year.

The data did not reveal whether the offenses occurred downtown.

Offenses such as traffic violations and skateboarding downtown would not count, according to the exclusion zone proposal.

The top three offenders listed in the data allegedly committed a combined total of 70 offenses. Fourteen people had 10 or more offenses, according to the data.

In the first quarter of this year, 17 people allegedly had committed three or more qualifying offenses each citywide.

Ashland City Councilman Dennis Slattery, who has voiced support for an exclusion zone, said he wouldn't argue with the police estimate that about 13 people last year would have been affected by an exclusion zone had one been in effect.

Other people might come up with different figures based on different ways of estimating, Slattery said.

He said what's important is how people behave after an exclusion zone is in place.

A council majority seems likely to approve exclusion zone rules, based on discussions at previous council meetings.

"A year from now, I hope no one will have had three strikes and no one will be excluded," Slattery said. "I'd hope people would abide by the rules."

He said the exclusion zone should be thought of as an inclusion zone because it would help more people — housed plus homeless — enjoy the downtown without having to deal with problem behavior.

"Everyone should feel comfortable in their downtown," Slattery said.

Holderness said when people get their first strike, police will give them written information about the exclusion zone criteria.

He said if anyone does end up getting three strikes and is arrested, he believes that news would spread to other repeat offenders, who might change their behavior.

City Councilwoman Carol Voisin said she has a variety of concerns about the proposed exclusion zone.

"It could displace offenders should they be trespassed from the downtown. They will be diverted into the neighborhoods," she said.

Voisin has questioned whether prohibited camping should be one of the exclusion zone criteria, given that Ashland has no homeless shelter.

She said some nonqualifying offenses — such as skateboarding on busy downtown sidewalks — are more dangerous to the public, especially to the frail elderly.

Voisin said repeat offenders who are mentally ill are unlikely to understand exclusion zone rules or be influenced by them.

Keith Haxton, a former Southern Oregon University student who is homeless and has been living with friends, said there are many more than a dozen people downtown who habitually break Ashland's prohibited camping law.

He said people who protest against Ashland's laws also could be affected by exclusion zone rules.

Haxton got three citations in just one night this year. He was sleeping on the downtown Plaza to protest Ashland's prohibited camping ordinance.

Haxton said he has six citations for prohibited camping, with $660 in pending fines that he plans to dispute. If the City Council does adopt an exclusion zone, Haxton said he could be excluded from the downtown for protesting.

Haxton said he and other people plan to camp on the downtown Plaza on Tuesday night to protest the public camping ban and the proposed exclusion zone.

A downtown protest camp-in will start at 5 p.m. with the purpose of defending the rights of people who have no legal place to sleep in Ashland, according to former Ashland City Councilman Eric Navickas, who is concerned about the rights of the homeless.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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