Downtown Asheville is getting an infusion of police presence under an arrangement announced Friday that the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office will begin patrols alongside Asheville Police.
The move follows Asheville Watchdog’s “Down Town” series of stories documenting concerns from businesses and residents about increasing crime, a depleted police force, and the challenges of a homeless population with untreated mental illness and addictions to potent drugs that cause aggressive behavior.
“I definitely want to give credit where credit is due,” Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said. “I think having quality local reporting, that brings clarity to some of these challenges, does really help drive good policy. And in this case I think [Asheville Watchdog] have really shined a clear light on a problem that up until now had been kind of talked about more rhetoric than actual data.”
Beginning this weekend, Asheville Police Department patrols “will be complemented by downtown patrols of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office,” the city announced in a news release.
This partnership is the result of “continued attention to a community wide response to downtown safety,” according to the release.
“We are grateful for our police force and for the Sheriff Office’s willingness to provide additional patrols,” City Manager Debra Campbell said in the release. “This is a good example of a collaborative approach to a safe downtown.”
City Attorney Brad Branham said the policy permitting deputy presence downtown is based on an intergovernmental mutual aid agreement.
Branham said he was not sure about the details of the increased law enforcement presence, including how many deputies would be on duty and what types of resources they would bring to patrol duties.
Sheriff Quentin Miller and APD Chief David Zack did not immediately respond to a phone call and text message.
The intergovernmental mutual aid agreement, obtained by Asheville Watchdog, allows officers of the law to have “the same jurisdiction, powers, rights, privileges, and immunities … as the officers of the requesting agency in addition to those the loaned offer normally possesses.”
In this instance APD is the requesting agency.
“The challenges in downtown are serious, complex, and evolving quickly,” Manheimer said in a news release. “Our downtown is a vital hub for a strong economy, for locals and visitors alike. Community safety depends on strong partnerships focused on addressing complex safety issues like we’re seeing downtown. I am proud of the work the men and women of APD are doing for our city every day and I am thankful for the additional support from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department.”
“There Will Be Many Questions”
Other members of Asheville City Council responded to the move as well.
“I think in recent years, the city and the county have been able to partner on a tremendous amount of community building work,” Council member Sage Turner told Asheville Watchdog. Turner is also a member of the Asheville Downtown Commission. “This partnership is another step in that direction. We have not been able to fully staff our police department for some time. Impacts are being seen across the community. And this collaboration with the county the Sheriff’s department is sure to be helpful.”
Council Member Kim Roney, in an email obtained by Asheville Watchdog, said she appreciated partnerships between the city and county but hadn’t been made aware of the move to bring deputies downtown until very recently. The collaboration was not discussed in the city manager’s report March 11, Roney said.
Reached by Asheville Watchdog, Roney sent a copy of an email she sent to Manheimer, Branham, and Campbell.
“Is it true that two/three Council members met with the City and County managers, the Sheriff, and the Chief to discuss,” she asked. “I appreciate this may be operational/the ‘fuzzy’, but if so, it looks a lot like two/three Council members instructing staff without a majority of Council.”
Roney then asked how many hours or shifts are being served, what the chain of command for the deputies’ presence will look like and what the cost will be to taxpayers.
“There will be many questions, and I can’t share responsibility with a team I’m not included in,” Roney wrote.
“Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it’s right,” Roney added.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities. Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.