Ashland police are setting up shop among the downtown merchants.




Ashland City Council gave Ashland Police Department the green light on Tuesday night to lease office space on North Main Street, across the street from the Plaza, for a downtown contact station.




"We're looking for a strategy that increases our presence downtown without reducing it in other places," Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness told the council. "We make a lot of arrests in that area, relative to the rest of the community."




Holderness said a downtown substation will reduce crime and disorder downtown, as well as diminish the perception of rampant criminal activity.




Holderness said downtown is "occupied by people with different beliefs and values," and a police presence will benefit "both sides." Not only will APD be in position to deter crime by their presence, and quickly respond to it, he said, but they will also be available to explain the difference between legal and illegal behavior.




Several Ashland business people spoke in favor of the downtown substation.




"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said Dennis Slattery, whose wife is the executive director of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.




Critics regard APD's desire for a downtown contact station as an effort to drive out some of the people who tend to congregate on the Plaza. In the past few years, several business owners have been at odds with advocates for the city's homeless and transient population.




An ad hoc group made up of Ashland businessmen Alan Sandler and Ron Hansen, and local progressive activists Pam Vavra and Ralph Temple advocated for a downtown substation on Tuesday night. Because they could agree on the need for a downtown substation, they hoped the council would as well.




"This is not the customary gathering," Temple said. "We know each other and like each other despite the vast political differences between us."




Hansen added, "We're very proud of our efforts to come together over a contact station."




The council, on the hand, had less agreement. Councilors Cate Hartzell and Eric Navickas voted against it. Hartzell said she did so because she felt it was important to locate the substation on public property.




"If this is a priority for us as a city," she said. "We should make it a priority to find public space for it."




The council considered locating the substation in City Hall, but that would have required either sharing space or moving someone else out. The City Recorder's Office, and the old jail (now occupied by the Finance Department) were considered.




Navickas told his council colleagues he would have voted for it had it been in City Hall, as well. But he also wanted to make a statement about what he called, "problems with intolerance" among downtown business owners. He suggested the council require police officers to host a weekly free meal at the contact station.




Mayor John Morrison and Councilor Alice Hardesty were supportive of the free meal idea, but not as a rider to the downtown substation motion.




"Familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds understanding," Morrison said, noting that having officers at any free meal in town would be "an opportunity for police to interact with members of the community."




The contact station will be located at 40 N. Main St., in a rental property currently occupied by The Adventure Center, a rafting company.




It will be staffed by a records clerk, Holderness said, and include a front counter where people can talk to police, as well as a separate interview room for matters requiring privacy. There is a front and back door, as well as two parking spaces for police officers. He hopes officers spend time writing reports at the substation.




The council delayed discussion on an APD proposal to purchase additional Tasers for officers because they wanted to give the community more time to become familiar with a proposed new policy regarding Tasers. Holderness will address the council about Tasers and other items in the Police Executive Research Forum Report at the next council meeting.




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