Asheville police increased their presence in downtown during the city's 60-day initiative. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

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.

Sage Turner // Credit: City of Asheville

“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

31 replies on “Enhanced downtown Asheville safety measures are here to stay, city says”

  1. Thank you for reporting on the follow-up of the Downtown Asheville series and highlighting the outcome. Our city seems to be moving in the right direction, and I am appreciative of the WatchDog’s reporting style that reports on what isn’t going well but also provides a continuation of the positive progress the city is making toward finding solutions to remedy the situation. Thank you for not being a negative-only new outlet!

  2. It would be helpful for the APD to expand this initiate all over the city. Given the vicious murder of the dog in North Asheville, we need patrols and presence everywhere, rather than pushing homeless out of our downtown into nearby neighborhoods. That’s hardly a good plan. But apparently we don’t have enough police to take care of our city.

    Our leaders like to contact the press with “save the day” rhetoric, but this current city council has proven ineffective in managing the boring stuff, providing basic local infrastructure. So here we are with rising crime and desperate people coming to live here from other places all over Asheville and the county. And we wring our hands and ask why is getting worse?

    Our neighborhoods need attention too.

    1. I agree. The city forcibly annexed much of the western and southern portions of the county into the city as far back as 2004. We pay city and county taxes and the only thing we gained was a green roll out trash can and a blue recycle can.
      The city police protection ought to be for all city residents.

      1. As a resident close to downtown we don’t get any more services than those in the western and southern portions, in fact our community pays for a dumpster so we don’t even get trash pickup.

        I think it’s time to consider consolidating all departments in both the city and county (police/sheriff depts, city/county school systems and parks & recreation). Savings could be made by eliminating a lot of top level administrators in duplicate departments. The money saved could be used to attract more highly trained officers, fire department and teachers.

  3. “how downtown businesses can help make the area safer by connecting their security cameras to a county-wide surveillance network ”

    Does anyone else find this another reason NOT to go into Buncombe county?

    Who controls that information? Who has access to it? What kind of legally binding non-disclosures/securing information documents do they sign?

    No offense, but Asheville/Buncombe ‘leadership’ messed up a water outage and basic public safety; do you think the general populace trusts you with their travel info and vehicle registration and privacy?

    How about our right to privacy to come and go as we please without government surveillance?

    1. I really wouldn’t worry about this. Trust me, government officials here are not that smart.

    2. Agree. And what security camera ever actually stopped crime? Now everyone rushes to get the activity for their Tic Tock account. Defunding police is so wrong headed.

  4. In spite of all the increased police etc presence in downtown Asheville, I still have friends reports of car break ins, beatings, etc. It will not stop until commissioners city and county are replaced with more responsible people.

    1. We need an actual Mayor who is the head of the police department. Not some committee referral group who will take three years studying the matter to conduct yet another survey. You can’t govern by committee.

  5. From someone who actually goes downtown several times a week the difference has been astounding. We want to thank the downtown business owners for keeping up the pressure and the Watchdog for the honest reporting on the dire conditions our beautiful town had been plagued by. Come downtown and support the town and businesses that make this an amazing place to live.

  6. I am concerned about the outlying neighborhoods. We have seen increased crime in other areas and while good to continue this program downtown, it does not address that it will drive crime to the areas surrounding the city.

    Additionally, a report that does not include statistics that showed whether there was a decrease in crime/trash during the 60 days isn’t a report at all. That is the only data that matters: the results of the effort.

  7. I doubt they would have done anything if it wasn’t for the watchdog series. That’s what media is for, to expose what those in power would prefer to be kept hidden. Good work watchdog.

  8. This is all well and good but they’re just pushing the crazies out of downtown, not actually, ya know, SOLVING anything. Saw a guy today on Merrimon yelling at the wind and punching ghosts.

    1. I was walking and saw him. I turned around and went home. There’s nowhere to walk without running into these screaming zombies. I used to go to Weaver Park. No more. 😪

  9. As a resident of an outlying area from downtown, I can attest to an increased presence of homeless folks in our neighborhood.
    Don’t know how to solve this. That is why people bring in experts
    I would much more appreciate vignettes about the people helping downtown than a council person with a pretty face. Our town is falling apart. What happened with the dog in Weaver park could easily have happened to a snoozing adult or child napping. Our town is beautiful and I hope collectively we step up to preserve this gift.

    1. Sage Turner: “We have an incredible, beautiful city and right now it needs our focused attention.”

      Correct that to: “We’re cleaning up downtown, where my business is. North, South, and East Asheville can go to hell for all I care.”

      Remember this in the next election.

      1. Ms. turners comment suggests that city leadership has not been paying attention to the city they were elected to help lead. What exactly have they been doing? Elect people who will always be focused on their job, not when things have been allowed to get this bad.

  10. It’s about time city officials took some positive steps to begin preventing the inexorable decline of downtown Asheville into an even bigger heap of filth and crime than it has become in the past four years. But there’s a lot left to do citywide. Downtown merchants, their employees, and artisans who are the commercial and creative heartbeat of the community certainly deserve the improvement, as do those of us who want to go downtown and support them. But so do West Asheville and the River Arts District. Kudos to Asheville Watchdog for putting leadership’s feet to the fire. Now keep it up!

  11. While I appreciate the efforts downtown greatly, I have to ask what about the rest of Asheville. We contribute and pay our taxes and yet now live in a city where the crime and drugs and homelessness and garbage is everywhere. I understand the push for downtown. I mean, we wouldn’t want the tourists to have a bad experience, would we? But what about the rest of us actually living here? Downtown is not the whole of Asheville and there needs to be concern for the citizens living here…not just downtown because the problems are everywhere.

    1. Amen to that. When will Asheville residents demand they receive the services their taxes pay for?

      1. Asheville residents do demand this. The problem is that many ‘leaders’ are tone deaf and have too many allegiances with corporate interests. The answer is simple: Real leaders who will say, “Yes, we acknowledge that Tourism is an economic driver. But in our city, we put the safety and quality of life of Residents First and we know that all good things will follow.”

      2. When city officials concerned more with safety than the weirdos concerned with being politically correct.

  12. I am glad to hear that the City plans to continue offer basic services in downtown and I am grateful to the Asheville Watchdog, whose comprehensive downtown series illuminated the long neglect of downtown, despite the fact that downtown generates a great deal of money for the larger community. And for those who want to complain, yet again, that downtown is for tourists, may I remind you that downtown generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually for this community, downtown has the largest concentration of locally owned businesses in Asheville -whose profits stay here, and while many of our customers are visiting from elsewhere (including your friends and relatives, perhaps?), I don’t know any downtown business with tourists on their payrolls.

    The 60-day initiative illuminated the fact that no one on City staff is managing downtown. Reading the list of ‘accomplishments’ over the 60-day initiative, I would be mortified if this were my business. How can we have 54 lighting issues identified? How is it possible that there were 4347 graffiti tags needing removal. And let’s talk about the cleanup of 75 biohazards in the City garages. Downtown does not have public restrooms open 24/7, so biohazards happen, as we say. Last year, Council approved funding for the installation of Portland loo type bathrooms in downtown for the 2022-23 fiscal year.. At the Downtown Commission meeting in June, almost a full year later, City staff gave an update, stating they were excited to now have a landscape architect on board. For a cost of $60,000. To ‘design’ the installation of a kit bathroom set-up on a 3800 sq ft parcel adjacent to the Rankin garage. We have a number of landscape architects on staff, and I cannot believe that we don’t have the ability in-house to do this, particularly as some of the ‘design’ is going to be ensuring oversight and safety, which locals would presumably understand better. An outside consultant/firm is not always the answer. $60,000 would cover a part-time community responder, for example.

    There have been a number of comments about homeless people ‘coming from downtown’ into adjacent neighborhoods. These are not downtown’s homeless. These are our community’s vulnerable. The majority of shelters, places for meals, the day center, and numerous agencies are currently located in downtown, but the responsibility lies with all of us.

    Giving downtown the basic services it more than pays for doesn’t mean West Asheville or the River Arts District or any other area of the City should not also get basic services. Fifteen years ago, downtown had public bathrooms and a dedicated police force. We are now generating more than four times as much money for the City and County and are getting less. It’s not sustainable. Love it or hate it, downtown Asheville is a community asset. A boarded up downtown is in no one’s best interest.

  13. Well, I suppose it’s progress of a sort moving a violent/murderous homeless man out of downtown Pritchard Park to Weaver Park in North Asheville. Not sure the residents of that leafy neighborhood would agree. Nor those of West Asheville.
    The solution to Asheville’s problems will begin only when we realize that the clean-up must begin at City Hall. With a new City Manager, a new Mayor, and a new City Council. And perhaps a male or two might be included in a new line-up.
    Even a white male. Or, perish the thought, a cis-gender male!

  14. To preserve safety requires a better mind set by city officials. Not trying to be politically correct on social matters.

  15. since most of your astute readers have already pointed out the cities “shell game” with the homeless and the need for new leadership, I will stick to the definition of the word “initiative” which is , the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do. Some adjectives are, ambitious, bold, creative. I believe Asheville’s use of the word initiative is a joke and would suggest that they have come up with a plan that is somehow cutting edge and was put into place by ” bold, creative, people”. I would respectfully disagree.

  16. So. Sage and her gang of tone deaf misfits say they’re going to continue doing what they should have been doing but refused to do for the past several years. Whoopee! Do they expect some commendation for finally protecting public safety–one of the main things they were elected to do? How about refunding some of our property tax dollars from all the time they’ve ignored us and slept at the wheel and wasted time and money with their various pet projects to make this place more attractive and comfy for tourists and transients?

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