Capt. Mike Lamb, who’s been with the Asheville Police Department for 25 years, responds to a call at the Bartlett Arms public housing apartments on Feb. 22. Lamb says the department saw a wave of departures in 2020. // Asheville Watchdog photo by John Boyle.

On an ordinary day in Asheville, 16 to 18 police officers patrol the entire city, an area covering 46 square miles.

That’s down from 30 cops on duty three years ago, when Asheville first started losing officers faster than it could replace them. 

The Asheville Police Department has been operating at a reduced capacity, now just 60 percent, for more than two years — and the Police Chief, David Zack, told Asheville Watchdog that it could be another decade before the force returns to pre-pandemic levels. 

The shortage is at least partly due to the same affordability crisis at the root of many of the problems police are tasked with addressing. Fewer than one in five Asheville police officers actually live in Asheville, where the median sale price for a home was $445,000 in January, and the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,657. 

Today, Asheville Watchdog continues its series Down Town, with an examination of the impact of a diminished police force especially downtown, where — as The Watchdog reported in Part 1 — merchants and residents have complained of increased break-ins and shoplifting, of human waste and needles in doorways, and of aggressive panhandlers.

COMING IN PART 3: ‘Trying to find somewhere to lay my head.’ 
Asheville’s unhoused: What life is like for those on the city’s streets.

Police patrols citywide are down. In the city’s core, officers on bicycles are gone, the Haywood Street police substation was closed in 2020, and downtown staffing has shrunk from eight cops per shift to two.

Asheville police Capt. Mike Lamb said that 20 years ago, when Asheville had about 20,000 fewer residents, the city had 255 officers. As of March 1, the number trained and available to work was 142.

City Manager Debra Campbell, Zack’s boss, described the impact of the officer shortage to the City Council in an Aug. 16, 2022, memo.

A traffic safety unit with seven officers had been “temporarily disbanded as only a single officer and sergeant remained,” she wrote. “Serious accident investigation will be handled by less qualified patrol officers … Proactive traffic enforcement, which has already been greatly curtailed, will be reduced even further. Neighborhood traffic concerns (stop sign, speeding, loud muffler etc.) will also receive limited attention.”

A police unit dedicated to public housing, where violent crime is the highest in the city, was disbanded because five of the eight officers left. The other three were reassigned to a team focusing on violent crime, Campbell wrote.

And the community engagement team, headed by Lamb and created to deal with many of the issues generating complaints downtown, had lost all eight of its officers. The department, Campbell wrote, “will no longer have officers exclusively assigned to respond to … illegal camping, panhandling, illegal parking, drug complaints, graffiti, and trespassing.”

2020: A Pivotal Year

To some in Asheville, a shrunken police force is cause for celebration. In the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, thousands of protesters assembled in cities nationwide including downtown Asheville, calling for an end to traditional policing that too often had culminated in violence, particularly against people of color.

A group of protesters stands by their “Defund The Police” mural on Spruce Street, June 22, 2020. The activists said that in the early morning hours, a group of armed counter-protesters showed up and tried to intimidate them and paint over their yellow-lettered message with blue paint. An Asheville city crew arrived later that day to wash away the mural. // Photo by Jason Sandford, Ashvegas

A “Defund the Police” movement arose, calling for elected leaders to dilute the power and size of police departments and shift responsibilities to others with more training on the root causes of crime, such as mental health, poverty, and drugs.

The Asheville City Council responded with a commitment to reparations for Blacks, who had endured decades of systemic racism in criminal justice and other areas. The City Council solicited public input on “Reimagining Public Safety,” and decreased the total number of positions in the police department, from 314 in 2020 to 269 the past two years, shifting some jobs away from police to other departments, to handle calls such as animal control and noise complaints. 

Within about a year of the George Floyd protests, 80 Asheville officers — one-third of the force — had retired or quit, an exodus that made Asheville the focus of a July 2021 article in The New York Times headlined, “​​Why Police Have Been Quitting in Droves in the Last Year.” Officers who had found themselves facing off against protesters complained that they had lost support from the City Council and Campbell, who oversees the police department. 

Melissa Lackey left the Asheville Police Department in 2022 to work for the Winston-Salem Police Department. While she is an Officer I in Winston-Salem, Lackey makes $6,000 more a year than when she was a sergeant in Asheville. //Photo courtesy of Melissa Lackey.

Former Asheville Police Sgt. Melissa Lackey, 44, is one of those who left. She’s now a police officer in Winston-Salem. Lackey spent 10 years in Asheville but left in August, citing the pay, the high cost of living, a sense that she’d never get off night shift — and what she felt was a lack of support from city officials.

Lackey said she makes more in Winston-Salem as an officer, $66,000, than she did as a supervisor in Asheville earning about $60,000 a year. She said she also received a $10,000 signing bonus from Winston-Salem.

Lackey said she felt unsafe in Asheville, particularly downtown after June 2020, when the George Floyd protests escalated into near-riots. She said she had been attacked two years earlier, in 2018, by a man with a knife as she sat in her patrol car in front of the now-closed Haywood Street downtown police substation.

“But it wasn’t until after 2020 that I was terrified,” she said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to go downtown.’ ”

Policing: A Political Hot Potato

Policing remains a political hot potato in Asheville. Anti-police symbols have been spray-painted on buildings. Asheville police were widely criticized for destroying an aid station set up to provide water and first-aid to the protesters in 2020. More protests followed the Christmas Day 2021 eviction of unhoused people and their advocates from a downtown park. 

Many say the smaller, less visible police force contributes to a perception that downtown and other parts of the city are less safe. But the concept of returning to more cops rankles others, particularly on the far-left. 

In a recent Twitter post critical of merchants’ complaints as portrayed by Asheville Watchdog, Firestorm Books & Coffee in West Asheville, self-described on its website as “a hub for anarchist thought and culture in WNC,” cited a New York Civil Liberties Union article from March 2022 titled, “We can’t police our way out of homelessness and mental health.” 

The article stated, “The response from many policymakers is predictable: More police, more coercion of people with mental illness, and — at best — only nods to the deeper problems that cause homelessness, mental health crises, and violence.” 

On the other side of the spectrum, right-leaning Fox News has several times portrayed Asheville as one of the most dangerous cities in America, blaming the city’s left-leaning politicians. “CRIME SOARS IN DEM-RUN TOURIST TOWN,” said one chyron. Another chyron proclaimed “TOWN BECOMING HUB OF ANTIFA”.

“If you want to be a bum, just come to Asheville, and life will be good,” Asheville resident Helen Hyatt of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods said on a March 3 segment of Fox & Friends.

Asheville, Hyatt told the national audience, has become “completely lawless.” 

Safety, in numbers

To many residents, Asheville does feel less safe.

Residents of the city’s public housing developments report being afraid in their homes because of gun violence. Downtown merchants and residents say they see more erratic behavior, including yelling, illicit sex, and defecating in public spaces. Used drug needles litter some sidewalks. 

People living on the streets say they, too, are afraid and have been robbed and assaulted.

Zack, in a recent interview at police headquarters, said most of the city’s crimes occur downtown, but the more serious crimes — violent assaults and homicides — are predominantly in the city’s public housing developments.

Violent crimes – rape, robbery, aggravated assault and homicide – have been increasing in Asheville, driven by an increase in aggravated assaults. Property crimes – burglary, theft, breaking and entering, and arson – have been declining, mirroring a national trend. // Watchdog graphic by John Maines; Source: Asheville police public incident data

Asheville native Whitley English, 34, lived in Deaverview Apartments in West Asheville for 10 years but moved to the newly constructed Maple Crest public housing apartments off Biltmore Avenue near downtown two years ago. 

Whitley English lives in the Maple Crest public housing apartments south of downtown with her 13-year-old daughter. She says they don’t feel safe there. The complex has seen three homicides since last July. // Photo courtesy of Whitley English.

English said she understands crime is a problem in all parts of town, including downtown, but she noted that Maple Crest has had three homicides since July. That includes a double homicide in late February. 

English has a 13-year-old daughter, and the shootings have them on edge. 

“I don’t feel safe at all,” English said. “The police know what’s going on, but there’s nothing being done, so I don’t I don’t know what to say. I guess it’s fend for yourself — figure it out for yourself.”

English said having an officer stationed at Maple Crest would help.

“I think by having the police presence around, crime wouldn’t be as bad as it is,” she said. “But first off, it would be a relationship with the community — building a better relationship with the community and the police force.”

At a March 3 meeting of downtown business owners, Asheville police Capt. Lamb said “Everybody wants officers everywhere, between communities, businesses, different areas that are having criminal issues. We’re getting a consistent demand across the city that wants to see more officers.”

“Presence deters crime”

The chief said he has heard complaints for two years about the lack of a police presence downtown, as well as “concerns about homeless and just the overall feeling of safety downtown.”

“Presence deters crime — there’s no doubt about it,” Zack said. “People can debate how much of an effect it has. Quite frankly, we know when you (see) officers downtown — and a lot of this is perception, too — when you see officers and you’re a shop owner or a business owner, you have a level of comfort.”

The 16 to 18 officers on duty at any time are divided among three police districts: Adam covering mostly West Asheville, Baker for the city’s north and east sides, and Charlie/David combining downtown, the Biltmore Village area, and south Asheville down to Airport Road.

As staffing dwindled, Charlie District (downtown) was combined with David District (Biltmore Village and south Asheville). On most shifts, only two officers patrol Charlie, “and maybe two working extra,” Asheville Police Capt. Mike Lamb said. // Watchdog graphic. Source: APD

Downtown used to be its own district, Charlie, with eight full-time officers and two to three additional on duty for each 12-hour shift, Lamb said. Now, “we have two officers and maybe two working extra” in the downtown district.

The Charlie/David District also includes south Asheville, which comprises Shiloh, Royal Pines, Arden and the Airport Road area. The Charlie/David team typically is assigned 10 officers on day shift (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.), with two of those assigned in the downtown/Biltmore Village Area. The night shift (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) has nine officers, with two for downtown/Biltmore Village.

But the department says this number can vary, depending on staffing levels, vacations or sick days. For instance, on March 13, seven officers were on day shift for Charlie/David district, with two of those downtown.

Some have suggested pulling officers from other districts to reinforce downtown, Zack said. But that’s not an option, he said, because of the need to respond urgently and safely to critical calls.

Asheville Police Capt. Mike Lamb, right, speaks with two other officers responding  to a call about an argument and possible assault at the Ingles on Tunnel Road near downtown. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

“These gunshots and shots fired (calls), they’re occurring all over,” Zack said. “And when they do occur, somebody’s got to go, and somebody’s got to get there and they gotta get there safely, and in sufficient numbers to deal with whatever the threat might be.”

 Certain calls strain police resources even further. “We had a guy the other night, he had warrants for his arrest and he would not get in the car, and it took seven officers about 30 minutes,” Lamb said at the March 3 business meeting. 

Officers are paid overtime to work “augment shifts.” The department spent $681,626 on overtime in 2020, $813,842 in 2021, and $390,708 in 2022, and Zack said he is under “no pressure whatsoever” to reduce that cost.

The department is “constantly increasing the number of augment shifts to try and get more coverage and more of a presence downtown,” the chief said. But officers have been “burning the candle at both ends for two years . . . and it’s like, ‘How much more overtime can we make them work?’”

Crime Trends Mixed

Measuring how the perception of safety squares with reality is imprecise.

Asheville police incident data show that in the three years beginning in 2020, when the exodus of officers began, violent crime increased, driven by more aggravated assaults.

Police incident reports show aggravated assaults pushing up overall violent crime, while burglaries and thefts have been declining. // Source: Asheville Police Department

Property crimes dropped, mirroring a national trend resulting from more people being home during the pandemic and fewer reported burglaries and break-ins.

Arrests have been at a 10-year low since 2020 because of fewer officers on patrol and a drop in pandemic-related property crimes. // Watchdog graphic by John Maines; Source: Asheville police arrest data

Two notable consequences of the decline in officers: From 2020 to 2022, Asheville police arrests were at their lowest in more than a decade, and police response times increased. Priority calls now take an average of eight minutes, compared to 6.8 three years ago, according to Asheville police records. It takes officers an average of 23.4 minutes for lower priority calls, compared to 19.9 three years ago.

Asheville police response times have increased over the last four years. In this chart, “P” stands for priority calls, 1, 2 and 3 for lower priority calls. // Source: Asheville Police Department.

Downtown, in the police beat known as Charlie 1, the picture since 2020 shows violent crimes climbing in 2021 and then dropping in 2022. Breaking and entering went up, and assaults were down.

Drug overdoses downtown nearly doubled, to 41 in 2022 from 21 in 2020.

Violent crimes have fluctuated downtown since 2020 while property crimes increased but are not as high as some previous years. At right in turquoise are the boundaries of the Charlie 1 downtown district.  // Source: Asheville Police Department

Some of the crime statistics are likely under-reported. The police department announced in June 2021 that due to staffing shortages officers would no longer respond to a variety of non-violent crimes ranging from thefts under $1,000 with no suspect information, to fraud, scams, and identity theft.

And several downtown business owners told Asheville Watchdog they stopped calling police because of how long it took for officers to respond — if they came at all — or they felt prosecution of the offenses would be ineffective.

Lamb, the police captain, noted that shop owners and employees at a recent public meeting said they’d seen people downtown acting aggressively with knives and clubs.

“That is something that we need to respond to, but we’re not getting a lot of those calls,” Lamb said at the meeting of business owners. “A lot of folks are not calling the police department because they think we will not respond.”

Trespassing incidents downtown have actually decreased since 2020, despite persistent complaints from businesses of people hanging out and sleeping in doorways and leaving human waste, trash and needles. A police program gives business owners the option of signing a “no trespassing” letter that allows officers to charge violators.

Only 38 percent of businesses downtown have “no trespassing” signs, and 20 percent have trespass letters on file, according to the police department. Without the letters, officers can’t force people to leave, Lamb said.

“If you’re concerned about trespassing at your establishment,” Zack said, “how about signing a letter that says, ‘We’ll prosecute for trespassing?’” 

The recruiting problem

Replenishing the police force is a top priority for the chief, but recruiting new officers or luring cops from other departments is challenging. Asheville often ranks as the most expensive place in North Carolina to live.

Earlier this month the nonprofit Just Economics of WNC released its “living wage” calculation for 2023, which represents what the group said “would allow a single person working full-time to qualify for a one-bedroom apartment in the Buncombe County area.” The 2023 figure is $20.10 an hour, which comes to $41,808 a year.

The Asheville Police Department’s starting salary for police officer trainees is $42,548. It rises to $45,856 upon completion of the academy and state certification.

Asheville Police Chief David Zack // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Of 174 officers on the force, Zack said, just eight own homes in the city limits, and another 19 rent apartments, mostly because it’s cheaper outside Asheville. The chief lived in the city limits his first year here, but he married recently and he and his wife own a home just outside the city limits. His wife owns a condominium downtown, and they stay there often, Zack said.

The city has boosted starting police salaries in recent years and added such perks as a $1,000 annual uniform allowance and a 5 percent pay increase for advanced law enforcement training, Zack said. But Asheville also has to compete with other police forces and sheriff’s offices in the state.

“I think we have to be more competitive with an agency like Charlotte, or the state police,” Zack said. He said he would like to see Asheville become a destination department, where officers want to spend their careers and would leave other departments to come here.

Entry level pay for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is $51,465, and officers can earn up to $90,017, according to the website. For the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, the hiring salary is $46,058 and $49,516 upon graduation from Patrol School, according to the website. 

Asheville Watchdog checked with other cities about staffing and vacancies in their police departments. The three that responded, Raleigh and High Point in North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina, all reported lower vacancy rates than Asheville — 6 to 15 percent — and more officers working the streets.

One patrol team of 15 to 16 officers and four supervisors is on duty at all times in High Point, a city with about 20,000 more people than Asheville, and for seven hours a day, when shifts overlap, the city has two teams with double the number of officers, police spokeswoman Victoria Ruvio said. The starting salary in High Point is $47,887 to $52,676, depending on education, she said. 

Greenville, with about 22,000 fewer residents than Asheville, has 17 officers on patrol at any time plus 15 on specialized teams such as traffic and neighborhood engagement, Sgt. Johnathan Bragg said. Four to eight officers are assigned to the central business district, depending on the time of day, and more on weekends. The starting salary is $47,515.

In Raleigh, a city five times bigger than Asheville, the police department has a little over 100 vacancies out of 796 officers, or 13 percent. A spokesman said the department does not comment on staffing. The starting salary for an officer is $50,301. 

Zack says Asheville has lost officers to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, mainly because of pay. The Sheriff’s Office runs the Buncombe County Detention Center, and starting pay there is $48,353.

But Asheville has also lost officers to local agencies that pay less but have less stressful demands on officers, or that cut down on commuting time.

“I think we have to be not equal to everyone else — we have to be well ahead,” Zack said. “Ideally, I think you need to be for a starting salary, you need to be closer to $60,000.”

Speaking at an Asheville City Council retreat March 3, Zack went further: “We need to be the highest paid agency in the state.”

Zack said an Asheville senior police officer (three years of experience) now starts at $51,653 but should be $70,000.

Sheriff’s Office Also Struggling

Lamb said the department’s wave of resignations, as well as relatively low pay, drew the attention of other agencies looking to recruit Asheville officers, who often have more extensive training than other department’s officers.

“When the resignations began, other agencies saw it as an opportunity,” Lamb said. “So the sheriff, being an ex-APD officer, started reaching out, and the county bumped their pay up just enough to where it was higher than what we were paying. And also they offer a higher 401k investment percentage.”

Aaron Sarver, spokesperson for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Quentin Miller, said the sheriff’s office does not have a “special effort geared toward” hiring from the Asheville Police Department.

“We’re actively recruiting officers and deputies from every agency in Western North Carolina,” Sarver said via email.

Asheville Watchdog requested the number of Asheville officers who have come to the sheriff’s office in the last three years, but Sarver said that information was not available from the human resources system. He estimated it to be “in the double digits.”

The total number of ex-Asheville officers at the Sheriff’s Office is higher. “A good number of people came over under (former) Sheriff (Van) Duncan as well and when Sheriff Miller took office” in 2018, Sarver said.

The Sheriff’s Office also has struggled to reach full staffing. It has 435 funded positions, but that includes about 30 non-sworn administrative positions, Sarver said. Currently, 356 of the 435 positions are filled, Sarver said.

More than half of the vacancies are at the county jail, the office’s largest division.

“While our staffing has improved in Detention over the past six to eight months, like all correctional facilities in North Carolina, we continue to struggle to recruit for these positions,” Sarver said. “The job market and cost of living in Asheville/Buncombe County create additional challenges compared to other parts of the state.”

Can the TDA help fund more cops?

Some locals have called for the police department to receive money collected on the bed tax by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, which currently, as dictated by state law, devotes two-thirds of its funds to marketing efforts and one-third to the Tourism Product Development Fund, which awards grants to permanent projects ranging from baseball fields to local theaters.

At its January meeting, the TDA noted that Buncombe County saw record growth in visitor spending in fiscal year 2022, and that in turn spurred an increase in lodging tax revenue, “reaching a historic $36.4 million.”

Victoria “Vic” Isley, president and chief executive officer of the Tourism Authority, said she has heard from downtown business owners, locals and tourists about break-ins, minor crime, and uncomfortable encounters.

Some visitors are asking about smaller towns outside of Asheville and Buncombe, Isley said. “They’re talking about frequenting businesses that are outside of our core, and that’s concerning for the livelihoods of workers as well as businesses,” she said.

New legislation passed last year readjusted the TDA formula, reducing the marketing allocation and bumping up the allowable spending on tourism products, but it does not allow for funding police. Isley stressed that the “lodging tax isn’t a panacea.”

“It’s not going to fix every issue we have as a community, and we cannot fund operations,” she said.

For example, the Tourism Authority could fund such capital projects as larger and better trash cans downtown, but it can’t fund the employees who would empty them. Similarly, Isley said, the TDA cannot fund police officers.

“We can be partners in other areas, but (funding) for standing operations is not a legal use of the lodging tax,” Isley said.

But money is not the main problem anyway, Isley said.

“APD has a human resources issue,” Isley said. “For once, they don’t have a financial resources issue, and they’ve got to work on recruiting and building trust, and having the benefits and resources for retention of officers.”

Asheville police recovery could take a decade

Zack said it will be years before the police department returns to full staffing, unless it can attract transfers from other departments. And Asheville’s flow of officers has never gone that direction, Zack said. Far more officers leave Asheville and go to other departments than vice versa.

“Unless we were able to really attract lateral transfers, I put our recovery anywhere from five to 10 years, closer to 10,” Zack said, noting that training time to solo patrol is 14 months.

Asheville has 10 officers in training now, and the largest class the department could accommodate is 15 officers. With two classes per year, that would mean 30 officers annually, assuming they all stay with the program and pass state exams.

In 2020, one entire class of seven recruits quit before completing their field training, some going to other departments, some leaving policing altogether, Zack said.

Zack said the department now requires officers to stay for three years or repay some of their training costs, depending on when they leave.

Zack, who has served 36 years as a police officer, said recruitment was difficult even before 2020. The “glamour, or whatever you want to call it,” Zack said, started to evaporate in 2014, after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

About 15 to 20 officers retired or resigned each year for years, but that increased to 58 in 2020, the year of the George Floyd protests, and 23 to 38 each subsequent year, according to Zack.

“You’re always in the deep end, and you’re bobbing up and down trying to breathe,” Zack said.

Asheville Police Department budgets, by division, from fiscal year 2019-20 through 2022-23. // Source: City of Asheville

The department has contracted with a recruiting firm for two years at a cost of $225,000. Asheville has to compete with other police departments not just on salary and benefits, but also on the community’s “reputation toward law enforcement,” Zack said.

By that he means an anti-police sentiment in Asheville. In 2020, protesters painted “Defund the Police” on a downtown street in bright yellow and marched behind signs that read, “Fund communities, not cops.” At another protest, a casket full of dirt and cow manure was delivered to the police station.

Zack said the pendulum may be shifting toward more support for police, now that business owners and downtown workers are complaining that a lack of police presence is contributing to safety and cleanliness problems.

“I think for the longest time, a small, loud minority was being heard. And now you’re seeing others have their voices heard,” Zack said. “The feedback that I’m getting from council is they are listening and they are hearing.”

[This article was updated to include more detailed police patrol staffing numbers for south Asheville.]

Staff writer Andrew R. Jones contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email John Boyle has been covering western North Carolina since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at John Maines was part of a team that won two Pulitzer Prizes, for Public Service in 2013 and 2019. Email:

37 replies on “Down Town, Part 2: A Thinner Blue Line”

  1. Asheville debates spending thirty million dollars to refurbish Memorial Stadium but underfunds the police? This is effective government?

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Last weekend I did some investigation and according to:

      Attendance: 172,726

      Let’s say that the taxpayer would be “on the hook” for only $950,000 per year for 20 years ($11 million short of the $30 million being requested), if you do the math:

      $950,000 per year for 20 years / Attendance: 172,726 = $5.50 taxpayer subsidy per attendee

      When businesses approach state, county and local government for subsidies, they usually “prove” that the “investment” that the taxpayer makes in the project will pay off. I haven’t seen any evidence that this has been done with the request for $30 million in taxpayer subsidies for the Asheville Tourists.

      1. I meant to add, “how about spending $30 million on our police, firefighters and teachers”.

  2. According to the article, South Asheville is not mentioned as being covered by any of the three districts. Why is that?

    1. South Asheville from downtown to Airport Road is clearly described and reported as the Charlie/David district in the article, along with a color-coded map.

  3. No mayor nor city council, nor city manager, has ever had the leadership to REQUIRE the Feds to supply and fund their own police force for all public housing in Asheville. This one thing could make a HUGE difference, but no, there’s NEVER been any real leadership. Democrats DESTROY cities.

    1. Cities having public housing authorities within their corporate limits recieve something from HUD called “payment in lieu of taxes.” The original law is Public Law 94-565, dated October 20, 1976. It should be published in the Federal Register. This is money for local units to provide public services to tax exempt properties such as Housing Authority property. I believe it is based on the amount of rental revenue collected from the public housing and meant to defer the cost of providing General Fund services (such as police) to local governments.

  4. Asheville is a beautiful place to live, located in a wonderful area of the state that people from many other places enjoy visiting. This is proven by the unceasing interest in building to accommodate travelers, e.g., additional hotel rooms as well as more permanent living space.

    Current thinking about housing focuses on making a certain percentage of available downtown space more affordable for people who are presently priced out of the market. Although some may view it as a form of government coercion, why not require that a portion of housing space be dedicated to police and their families? One approach might be in exchange for authorization to construct new housing some small percentage of rooms must be made available to house police officers and their families. This same approach could also extended to a portion of existing structures.

    Think about the benefits for local residents. Police presence living among other downtown residents and businesses would necessarily raise police visibility. Moreover, these same police officers could be assigned to patrol the areas where they live. Decent housing at a greatly reduced cost would be equivalent to an increase in salary, making APD competitive with areas offering higher pay. Downtown shoppers, business owners, and residents may feel safer. Unlike the popular movie, police can’t be everywhere all at once, but this concept in some form might help address police presence downtown and aid our officers in finding affordable living space.

  5. A surprisingly well-balanced article; even for an obvious left-leaning outlet. Fair is fair.

    As a retired law enforcement supervisor, while pay is a factor; until the Asheville/Buncombe government(s) publically and actually change their outlook on supporting law enforcement (not just sound bites), recruiting will be a challenge.

    Experienced cops will go visit and talk with APD/BCSO officers and deputies before putting in an application.

    Because when that many veteran officers leave an agency or two in that short of a time frame; it’s because of an actual threat to their careers and retirement. In this case, from the administration(s) that pay them.

    And a word to the wise about potentially lowering standards — go look at what recently happened in Memphis TN when they tried that. Didn’t go so well, did it?

    As a citizen of the area, I go into downtown Asheville only if absolutely necessary. Maybe twice a year; because it’s not worth the hassle of dealing with the accosting from the alleged homeless, and a lack of traffic control/enforcement — as compared to the cost of parking/food/etc.

    Aside from one or two events at the civic center each year — Haywood, Henderson, Transylvania, and other counties in the area have just as much to offer — and do not tolerate that negative behavior.

    Are there people out there with legitimate housing and or mental health challenges? Absolutely. And we as a society should try and help them.

    Are there also people out there just trying to scam whatever free stuff they can get? Yes again. And their free stuff needs to be taken away.

    Failing to acknowledge both of those facts is part of the problem. I would go back and look at ‘community-orientated policing’ from the 1990’s. It works. I’ve seen it in person.

    The community, business leaders, local governments, and agencies — all need to buy into it for it to work.

    Are there people out there that are working in law enforcement that shouldn’t be? Yes. However, the overwhelming majority of the good cops don’t want them wearing a badge either. Despite the background checks, psychological testing, and probationary period; people that shouldn’t still get hired.

    Is there a systematic problem? Not in my experience; and I worked for two municipal agencies, and one federal agency over multiple decades.

    May 2021 –

    Nov 2020 –

    June 2020 –

    June 2020 –

    Keep in mind, that ALL public safety personnel are nothing more than regular folks trying to clean up other folks’ bad days.

    Do your own homework, make up your own mind.

    God gave us brains and the abillity to think and choose.

    Use them wisely.

  6. Obviously, we need a healthy police force to address crime. The department must be able to pay a living, competitive wage, and provide crucial training and incentives. However, in order to create lasting safety and wellbeing for all citzens, we must also focus on building real community. This could include creating jobs in street cleaning and beautifying neighborhoods, mobile health clinics, public food gardens, inclusive art/music/theater programs, increasing common areas (where people don’t have to spend money to congregate), etc. If our community is to evolve, we must find ways to include the unhoused and otherwise disenfranchised in ongoing dialogs; I look forward to the next installment in this series. I’d also love to meet some of our city’s visionaries and community-builders in future editions of Asheville Watchdog.

  7. From Mountain Xpress article 2 years ago (below)…surely the TDA would like to find a way to protect their investment.

    Isley said homelessness was “a bit of a sticky wicket for Asheville” but suggested that a street ambassador program, similar to existing initiatives in Washington and Tampa Bay, Fla., might make a difference. Those ambassadors, she said, could both assist unhoused people with community resources and help tourists find their way around town.

    In the short term, Isley continued, a pilot ambassador program might be funded in partnership with Asheville or Buncombe County using money those governments will receive through the federal American Rescue Plan. As previously reported by Xpress, Buncombe County alone is slated to receive over $51 million in relief funds, which among other uses can be spent on “aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.”

    Once that money is gone, Isley said permanent funding might come from a downtown business improvement district. Under that scheme, businesses would pay an additional tax to support downtown-specific services such as the ambassador program. “Now is not the time to approach local businesses to ask them for a give,” Isley added in acknowledgement of the pandemic’s lingering effects. But she said a successful pilot could set the stage for a BID in the near future.

  8. Please correct your representation of our commentary on the previous piece. Saying that we were “critical of merchants’ complaints as portrayed by Asheville Watchdog” makes it sound like we were criticizing merchants when our criticism was directed at your coverage, which we called “copaganda,” “not neutral,” “designed to other and exclude,” “less like an attempt to tell a complete story than a grievance list,” an “inflammatory piece masquerading as investigative journalism,” and “[lacking] editorial discernment.” It would also be great if you’d provide an inline link to the thread so that readers can decide for themselves. It can be found at

    1. To Libertie: You have no right to decide what is and isn’t liberal. The only thing the second piece in this series got wrong is calling you Leftists. Anarchy is a far right philosophy. There’s nothing liberal about defunding the police, or any government program. Liberals are the true party of law and order, because we understand that laws don’t exist solely to punish, but also to protect. You’re nothing but an Alt-Right wanna be organization that wouldn’t know good reporting if Ayn Rand shoved it down your throat. The apathetic way you treat the homeless isn’t helpful, it’s enabling. Why pursue a better life when they can be totally supported by you and slowly kill themselves? You might see it at helpful, but I see it as what it is- assisted suicide.

  9. The payment of $225,000.00 to a recruiting firm seems quite wasteful, when all our competitive cities are paying much higher salaries.
    I would be interested to know if the two police officers working in downtown Asheville are walking the streets or riding around in a cruiser ? And what hours are they on duty ?

  10. Most of the people in Asheville, from working class to relatively well-off are constantly getting pressed from the top by high prices and taxes making the city unaffordable, and pressed from the bottom by rising and more belligerent crime making the city unlivable. at least when crime was high in the 70s and 80s Asheville was cheap.

  11. Not only will it take years to get the police force back to the levels necessary, it’s going to take even more time to overcome the negative reputation Asheville now has nationwide. I hear from friends in other parts of the country and they have heard that Asheville isn’t safe or clean anymore.

  12. I disagree with Vic Isley when she says that APD has a ‘human resources issue’. That’s only a small part of the challenge. Just as large may be the ‘identity issue’ of the city of Asheville, along with the ‘affordable housing issue’, or it might be the ‘community support issue’ or the ‘too much tourist town marketing issue’ and ‘policing as we’ve always policed issue’. How many area business owners begging for more police own STRs? Of these, how many would commit to renting long-term to our police officers for several years? How many area hotels would earmark rooms for incoming recruits for several months to help with their transition to our city?

  13. How about giving police officers buying a home in Asheville tax breaks. Low interest loans and down payment assistance. Also tax breaks on their income tax. That would be a raise without great expense to the city budget.
    We do it for hotels and industry why not to policing.
    What experience does our. City manager have in policing? Zack works for her? How about he answers only to the mayor!

  14. I have to say, I am baffled by the complaints from the APD about a lack of support from the community. City Council has continually funded APD at the amounts requested, even keeping its budget constant as the number of personnel have dropped.

    The notion that our community is so hostile to its police that no one wants to work here is, frankly, not credible. Does the leadership at the police department require an unending stream of praise in order to do its work? Do the rank and file really require atta-boys and you’re-the-bests?

    Most people in public service (and, actually, *most jobs*) go unlauded. They’re lucky if they get support and praise from their actual management. The notion that electeds and residents should be showering the police with accolades or else they just won’t be motivated to do their jobs seems, well, kinda immature.

    People do hard jobs because they take pride in their work. They serve the public because they are called to contribute to their community. Yes, they should be well-paid. Yes, they should get appropriate acknowledgment from supervisors. But performative praise being a necessity for police seems like a really problematic requirement.

    People who serve in the police force should understand that the vast majority of the population values their work. They should also understand that a significant portion of the population has had and continues to have bad experiences with law enforcement and quite understandably there’s no love lost there. Part of training for law enforcement should include understanding how and why this disconnect happens, and proactive and collaborative approaches to mending those community relationships.

    “Waaah, we don’t get enough support” is not a good look for any institution that is empowered to wield deadly force. Ask why you feel that way and what can be done to mend what’s broken.

    1. I have to say, I am baffled by your comment and I’m glad you didn’t win whatever it was you were running for. You know the city didn’t support APD and that is the reason for understaffing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect those dots. These men and women are not looking for performative praise and sure as heck aren’t leaving because you and others refuse to give it to them. Most employees want to be supported by those who employ them, and if your job involves risking your life every time you go to work, I’m sure that need for support increases exponentially. Your position on the police is made clear in your last paragraph, and thats fine, but please don’t spin the narrative to make it look like anyone other than the city of Asheville is to blame.

    2. Excellent comment. Those given the power of life and death should be held to very high standards for public service, not coddled. Man up, boys. You want constant handholding? Work elsewhere.

    3. Well, that attitude will surely help with recruitment! While I often agree with you, Nina, I feel like you’re a bit off this time. We should really be working very hard to retain the very best who are still here. We should also (as several have mentioned above) work to help law enforcement and educators with home-purchasing. Instead, this city keeps selling land to developers for $1 and then giving all sorts of grants and tax breaks…police are trained in a variety of things, including investigation. Do you not realize that one of the reasons we can’t recruit is that wise would-be officers currently living elsewhere are reading our local news and comments? They’re doing their research. Police are not tourists who can be wooed and bamboozled with glossy pictures of waterfalls.

      1. I completely agree that would should be doing everything we can to retain experienced police officers, with good people and community relations skills. I’ve spent time talking with police officers and listening to their concerns, and I believe they deserve good pay and good management. During my campaign I proposed that we subsidize housing for police within the City of Asheville, so that officers could be part of the community they serve.

        I am by no means anti-cop. I am strongly in favor of high-quality, well-trained police who bring a heart for service, a cool head, and a collaborative approach to community safety.

    4. Imagine you have a chance to do a public facing job, the same job, in two different communities.

      In one community there is graffiti in your workplace saying people who do your job are pigs, bastards, etc. Many people you interact with, and often just pass by, continually call you names and harass you while trying to do you job. Some of the senior leadership of your employer constantly votes against giving you the proper tools to do your job and makes public comments about how flawed and bad you are.

      Then there is a second employer. Instead of graffiti attacking you there are signs of support. The public you interact with is overwhelmingly pleasant to deal with. The senior leadership of your employer is very supportive and works to give you all the tools that you need.

      Tell me, what employer do you choose to go work for?

      Then when the difference in working conditions is pointed out, people in yeh first city say “waaah, go do your job, don’t be a crybaby” like you basically did in your post.

      Will that change your mind?

      There is a reason many APD officers have left for places like Waynesville, where they even sometimes took a pay cut for the better working environment.

  15. You mention 2020 protests as being a negative impact on police morale, but do not speak to the violence done against Johnnie Rush, the horrible way Jerry Williams’ family was treated after he was shot dead by police; of the decades long distrust between police and the community relating to overpolicing. These are not new issues to Asheville; there is a lot of history here. Yes, police need to be paid more – though it seems they are actually paid pretty close to a living wage based on the numbers you present; they also need better training and recruitment; and should not be called upon to deal with houseless community members who don’t need to be met with blunt force, but resource-connecting and compassion. This issue is far more complicated than your 3-part series is allowing for. It’s not a businesses vs. criminals/houseless vs. police issue. It is far more nuanced than that. My business was downtown for 12 years; every summer there was an uptick in the traveling houseless community and there would be issues of more people sleeping in doorways; defecation, etc. There were plenty of police around then. But, unless an actual crime is committed, concerns of the presence of houselss are not going to be fixed by police. Generally they are further exacerbated. When the police force was robust, often 6 cops would shop up for one poor homeless guy sleeping on a bench. Asheville seems to like to spend money on experts and reports – and form commissions and task forces. In the end systemic issues are not easy to solve. They can’t be solved with more money or more police. They are solved by getting creative, collaborative, difficult work; by being willing to see the ways the system is broken.

  16. I was thinking exactly the same, Elizabeth. APD’s reputation for racist policing began long before George Floyd with excessive ‘driving while black’ traffic stops, beatings and the rest. Neither does this article mention that APD misconduct at the George Floyd protest also received negative national publicity, from their destroying the medic station to allowing unidentified civilian men with long arm weapons to stand in a threatening manner at the perimeters of the parade. The parade was peaceful until police fired tear gas into the crowd. Also, Defund the Police advocates were only the more extreme faction of people who wanted major reforms.

    Asheville residents were made a number of promises by Chief Zacks to investigate and expose some of this conduct. Instead he went on a PR campaign. Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and a host of white supremacist organizations have have made it their mission to populate police forces around the country and the APD was undoubtedly no exception. Perhaps the emptying out of the APD gives us a real opportunity to reform policing here. To support expanding the police department we deserve assurances about reforming the culture and militaristic weaponization of policing. You should have included the perspectives of BLM and the Racial Justice Initiative here.

    I’m very grateful to the Asheville Watchdog for their reporting, but so far this series is entirely too sourced from downtown financial interests. I suspect the APD might have an easier job recruiting if they came clean about exactly how they’re reforming their hiring, training and policing practices. Who in their right mind would want to get into this mess for $60,000. a year?Why don’t we seek recruits by making it clear they can be part of helping to build a new model police force, a leader in true police reform.

    1. “Who in their right mind would want to get into this mess for $60,000. a year?Why don’t we seek recruits by making it clear they can be part of helping to build a new model police force, a leader in true police reform.”

      Couldn’t agree more. Asheville needs to consider an entirely new policing model for downtown and around all hotspots. I’ve continually proposed that the city adopt aspects of the Koban policing model not only for its practicality and community-building aspects, but also a way to attract young people into the profession. This business of poaching (and being poached by) other cities isn’t really a sustainable or intelligent business practice.

  17. In the “good”/”bad” old days (choose your viewpoint), and before everything was called “homelessness”, vagrancy was reduced by a combination of law enforcement and the courts. People were actually put in jail; even for what some today might consider minor offences. The “punishment” was continued until the vagrants sought greener pastures. It didn’t “solve” the vagrants problems (except that it stopped them from substance abuse while in jail), but it did what was necessary for the GREATER GOOD.

    Americans have always been an optimistic bunch, but today several themes seem to top the charts. One is that technology can solve anything and the second is that all human conditions can be “fixed”. The Japanese have an intersting philosphy and saying that goes something like: “It can’t be helped”. At 67, I’ve seen enough in life to start to believe this viewpoint as it relates to many of our social problems.

    If we want to fix vagrancy in our city, we also need to get the courts, DA, and county jail on board, because I can tell you that without a meaningful conseqence for vagrancy, all the police in the world won’t fix that problem.

    1. Good call, Mike. Homelessness isn’t a crime. But these people are desperate, and desperate people will cross into criminality to survive. Drug use is a form of survival that people don’t talk about. They can’t just stop cold Turkey in an alley and start rebuilding their life. It has to be medically overseen and in a clean environment. They won’t go willingly. I didn’t. The magistrate put a detention order on me and locked me in Neil Dobbins for a week. It worked, but they only have 16 beds. Take some of the TDA money and set up a larger inpatient rehab/psychiatric treatment program with 200 beds and watch people start to take control of their lives.

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