The city of Asheville announced on the final day of its 60-day downtown safety initiative that it plans to continue most aspects of the program, including an increased police presence and a team of firefighters who will respond to people in need.
In a three-page brief released Friday, the city summed up the initiative, which began May 1, following increased concerns about crime, homelessness and cleanliness in downtown — problems detailed extensively by Asheville Watchdog in its Down Town series.
“Proactive engagement and presence by law enforcement and supportive services continues to be needed in order to address the complicated factors contributing to public safety within downtown and across the city,” the report stated.
Both the city and county have invested resources, personnel and new or revived strategies to address crime, surveillance and homelessness in the central business district.
Councilwoman Sage Turner, who sits on the city’s Downtown Commission, said more information about the pilot program’s results will be released soon.
“Sixty days resulted in staggering figures of patrol hours, interventions, first aid, trash removal, wellness checks, and graffiti,” Turner said. “These numbers demonstrate how dire the situation had become in recent months. I applaud and thank the city manager, APD, AFD, and all who participated in these efforts. I am relieved this work will continue and will expand into other areas. We have an incredible, beautiful city and right now it needs our focused attention.”
Turner said there will be an opportunity for public input at the July 14 Downtown Commission meeting.
Asheville police officers logged 723 foot patrol and 41 bike patrol hours and Asheville Fire Department initiated 327 interactions during the program, according to the brief. City staff worked to remove thousands of graffiti tags, and other employees did safety assessment walks with businesses.
The brief did not provide statistics that showed whether there was a decrease in crime during the 60 days. There was no spike in crime in other areas of the city during the initiative, but violent crime “remains high citywide,” according to the brief.
“We’re not going to stop anything that we undertook for this 60-day initiative,” City Manager Debra Campbell said in a June 27 Environment and Safety Committee meeting. “We want the community to understand that, particularly as it relates to a presence, we will continue to be on foot. We will have law enforcement on bikes. … The community responder program, that is going to continue.”.
According to discussion during the meeting, these efforts could expand into West Asheville, but there was no mention of that possibility in Friday’s brief.
According to the brief, the city will continue these programs:
- Asheville Police Department proactive presence
- Extension of the community responder pilot program, run by Asheville Fire Department
- Prioritization of lighting improvements
- Proactive noise and zoning enforcement
- Commitment to addressing homelessness
- Enhanced city parking garage safety and cleanliness
- Downtown cleanliness
- Maintenance and management of parks
When asked for response, Asheville Police spokeswoman Samantha Booth said, “All inquires and statements are being handled by the City of Asheville regarding the COA 60 Day Downtown Safety Initiative.”
A spokesperson for the fire department also did not immediately respond.
Community response on the 60-day initiative was generally positive, the brief said, though the city seeks more guidance on how downtown businesses can help make the area safer by connecting their security cameras to a county-wide surveillance network and adding more lighting.
The report said there should be clearer, more unified guidance across agencies on issues around reporting, especially related to people who don’t have homes.
When the initiative was conceived, the Asheville Police Department proposed a much broader program that included collaboration among police, numerous city departments, businesses and the Tourism Development Authority. That approach was scrapped for a much more focused initiative, according to The Watchdog’s reporting.
The Buncombe County sheriff’s office took the unusual step of patrolling downtown for four weekends between April 14 and May 13. The sheriff’s office released a report on its 30-day initiative in early June. According to the report, a planned collaboration between the sheriff’s office and Asheville police didn’t happen, a finding disputed by Asheville Police Chief David Zack.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.