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Fox News: Asheville Is Crime-Ridden, Dangerous

Report Misstates Stats, Blames "Leftist" Agenda

Fox News last week told a national audience that Asheville has seen a 31 percent increase in violent crime in the last five years. “Asheville once touted as a top-10 tourist destination back in 2017, but with crime raging, the city now ranks, get this, in the top 10 percent of most violent cities in America,” anchor Todd Piro said. “That’s tough to believe.”

Yes, it is.

The 31 percent increase is not current. It refers to a period ending in 2020, when crime had increased nationwide. Violent crime — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — went down in Asheville in 2021.

And the reference to Asheville being among the most violent cities came from an analysis, also based on 2020 data, that combined all violent crimes — a potentially misleading way to view the statistics, said Christopher Herrmann, an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. 

For instance, Wilmington, a city of 115,000 people on North Carolina’s east coast, had double the number of murders as Asheville but a lower overall violent crime rate: 685 violent crimes per 100,000 population versus Asheville’s 805.

Since the beginning of 2022, Asheville has seen an uptick in aggravated assaults, defined as attacking someone with the intent of causing severe injury. But the raging crime, carjackings and Mexican drug cartel activity described by Fox News?

“Crime is a serious issue and one that I hear about as a top concern for our community,” said Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. “Is our community unsafe as the picture is painted by Fox News? No, absolutely not.”

Sheriff: Asheville is Safe

The Fox News report blamed Asheville’s left-leaning politicians for the city’s purported violent crime problem. “CRIME SOARS IN DEM-RUN TOURIST TOWN,” said the chyron. Another chyron proclaimed “TOWN BECOMING HUB OF ANTIFA”.

Former Sheriff Van Duncan (right) went on Fox News to blame “leftist politicians” and “Antifa activists” in Asheville

The segment featured ex-Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, a former Democrat who blamed “leftist politicians” for what he said was anti-police sentiment in Asheville. Duncan, who retired as sheriff in 2018, ran the department for 12 years, replacing Bobby Lee Medford.

Duncan said in the segment that crime started to climb as those leftist politicians set an agenda that included reducing the jail population. He also said Antifa and activists were active in Asheville and described the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 as “riots.”

Duncan’s successor, Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller, told Asheville Watchdog, “We’ve seen some violent crime numbers go up,” but like Asheville Police, the Sheriff’s Office saw a decline in violent crimes in 2021.

Miller said he has not encountered an anti-law enforcement sentiment. “The Buncombe county commissioners have stood with me 100 percent,” he said, supporting pay raises and new equipment.

The jail population did decline, especially during the worst of Covid, as some non-violent inmates awaiting trial were released. But the sheriff said, “We didn’t see an increase … as far as crimes being committed.”

An online version of the Fox News report said, without citing any details, that there was evidence in Asheville “of increased Mexican drug cartel activity in the area, according to multiple law enforcement sources who spoke to Fox News Digital.”

Sheriff Miller said, “Fentanyl is killing our folks locally,” as it is across North Carolina and the U.S. But the drug-dealing arrests in Buncombe thus far have not included Latinos. “We haven’t really seen as you would call it the cartel,” he said.

More people today are armed with weapons and guns, said Miller, an Asheville native. “But as far as Asheville being safe, I think it’s safe.”

No Discernible Difference 

Herrmann, a former crime analyst supervisor with the New York City Police Department, said he looked at crime statistics in cities with liberal and conservative majorities last year and found no discernible difference. “There were plenty of Republican-mayor cities with crime also going up,” he said. 

Mayor Manheimer said, “Fox News is doing their best to try to highlight these evil Democrat blue cities like New York and Chicago and L.A., and I guess now we’re going to focus on Asheville. It is a continuation of this theme of, ‘You should worry. You’re not safe in your own home. You’re not safe in your community. You’re not safe walking down the sidewalk.’ And that’s not the case in Asheville.”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson last week took aim at Manheimer, whom he described as wearing “complicated eyeglasses that all the girl bosses now wear.” Under her leadership, Carlson claimed, Asheville as a beautiful place “should have no crime, but it has a lot now.” And he said Asheville had “a lot of carjackings.”

Carjacking is not a criminal charge in North Carolina. Asheville police spokesman Bill Davis said the department has had 16 robberies involving theft of a vehicle since the beginning of 2021. Four police press releases or news reports in the past two years mentioned “carjackings,” including  one in February 2022, when police said a man forced a 91-year-old woman from her car and drove away.

Chief Cites Officer Vacancies 

Asheville Watchdog dug into the city’s crime statistics and found violent crime in Asheville disproportionately affects Blacks, especially young Blacks.

“There certainly are people that are at higher risk,” Manheimer said.

But the violence, the mayor said, “is fairly isolated in our community. And it’s not typically random.”

Blacks account for 11 percent of Asheville’s population but make up 31 percent of violent crime victims // Credit: City of Asheville Crime Dashboard

Asheville Watchdog made three requests over two days to interview Asheville Police Chief David Zack about crime trends, but Davis said he “has a very busy schedule.”

Zack did find time to talk to Fox News and said the exodus of more than 100 officers since May 2020 had limited the department’s ability to be proactive and visible. He was quoted as saying, “There certainly have been questions about support [for police] from elected officials, from the president of the United States right on down, so it’s not just local leaders.”

In 2021, while Asheville’s police force was drastically reduced, violent crime decreased.

When police departments add or lose officers, there’s not a direct correlation in crime, Herrmann said. “It’s a little bit of a leap to suggest that cops have this much of a crime-fighting skill,” he said.

Zack: Police Vacancies at 42 Percent

Cities across the country are hiring after losing officers in the past couple of years. “There’s no doubt that the social justice protests of 2020 and Covid have certainly strained all the police departments,” Herrmann said.

Zack told Fox News that Asheville is operating with nearly 42 percent fewer officers “every single day.” The department has 61 vacancies out of 238 sworn officers and another 26 in training or on leave, Davis said.

Manheimer said Asheville’s police department is understaffed, “and we’re working hard to build back the ranks to be able to keep our community safe and respond to calls for service when the call is made.”

The Asheville Police crime dashboard shows crimes against people down 10 percent in the past year and crimes against property down 20 percent. Those numbers include a broad range of offenses. 

Since the beginning of this year, “violent crime is increasing,” Davis said. “It’s primarily attributable to the rise in aggravated assaults.” 

Aggravated assaults are up 44 percent over the same period last year, and domestic-related aggravated assaults are up 64 percent, Davis said.

Robberies are also up, 29 percent. “The only violent crime that has seen reductions is rape, down 28 percent,” he said. 

Asheville Watchdog sent the police department a list of questions about the increases: How many are drug- or gang-related? What are the demographics of the offenders and victims, and are the weapons being used mostly guns? Do the people involved have criminal histories for violence or drugs? Is the violence centered in or near public housing? Are armed gang members or drug dealers coming into Asheville from Charlotte, Atlanta or other cities? Have any assaults been random, aimed at residents or tourists? Is downtown safe?

Chief Zack, through Davis, answered one question: “There are loosely-organized, neighborhood-specific groups that could fall under a broad definition of gangs here in Asheville.” But within those groups, the chief said it was doubtful that police could build a case to prosecute members under the federal racketeering law designed to combat organized crime.

Perception of Fear 

Crime statistics don’t provide the full picture of crime in a city.

“What I’ve learned over the years is you can apparently slice and dice crime data however you’d like,” Manheimer said. “You can take five-year snapshots, ten-year snapshots, one-year, year-over-year.”

Asheville’s 5-year violent crime rate cited by Fox News, a 31 percent increase from 2016 to 2020, becomes a 15 percent increase from 2017 to 2021. And the most recent one-year look, from 2020 to 2021, shows a 6 percent decrease. 

Each year, aggravated assaults made up the majority of Asheville’s violent crimes, accounting for about two-thirds to nearly three-quarters.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics samples U.S. households about crime victimization each year. “What they show is over half of serious crime doesn’t even get reported to the police,” Herrmann said. “When you tell me that your assaults are up, I’m going to say you don’t really know that because almost half of your assaults are probably not reported.”

Manheimer said some people suspect crimes in Asheville are going unreported because of the police department’s decision, beginning in June 2021, to no longer respond in-person to calls about theft, fraud and other non-serious crimes due to staffing shortages.

“I don’t know if that’s true or not,” the mayor said. “But I would have to think they would be more of the kind of smaller, petty types of things, not violent crime.”

Crime perceptions are also shaped by more homeless people in and around downtown. Asheville saw a 21 percent increase in the homeless, or unhoused population, in 2022 over 2021, leading to the belief by some residents and visitors that downtown has become dangerous.

“They see people who are mentally unwell walking down the center of the street, talking to themselves, and they are fearful,” Manheimer said.

Asheville’s increase in violent crimes leading up to 2020 resembles state and national trends // Credit: FBI’s Crime Data Explorer

Blacks Disproportionately Impacted

Here’s what the stats do say about crime in Asheville and who’s at risk:

– Blacks make up 11 percent of Asheville’s population but account for 31 percent of violent crime victims.

– Women accounted for nearly half of all violent crime victims in Asheville (46 percent), while men committed 80 percent of the crimes, according to data reported to the FBI for 2020, the latest year available. 

The FBI data also show:

–  Of 17 murders in Asheville in 2019 and 2020, 14 of the perpetrators and 12 of the victims were Black. Nearly three-quarters were 29 or younger, and all but three were males.  

– Nearly 60 percent of Asheville’s aggravated assault victims in 2020 were relatives or acquaintances of their attacker. One in five were strangers.

– Of the reported robberies in 2020, 26 percent of the victims were strangers. The robberies occurred in public and private places, including one-quarter in a street or alley, 16 percent in a residence, 15 percent in a parking lot or garage, and 10 percent in a convenience store.

Herrmann reviewed Asheville’s crime statistics for Asheville Watchdog.

“Everything seems to be in line with the national trend, which was everyone had significant increases in 2020 when the pandemic hit and then some cities kept on going up a little bit in 2021,” he said. “I think overall the national trend is things are kind of getting back to normal. But the question then is really what’s the new normal going to be?”


Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Contact her at skestin@avlwatchdog.org.

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20 Comments

  1. Jan Schochet Jan Schochet September 21, 2022

    Thank you for writing this important article in response to fox fables usually biased reports.

  2. Ellen Ellen September 21, 2022

    Interesting statistics . The unreported crimes are a concern to me. Also, there seems to be a LOT of petty thievery. Petty thievery seems to be glossed over by everyone but as a homeowner it is a BIG deal. It may not get reported because homeowners are resigned to the fact that there is no help for this issue.

    Another concern: “ Manheimer said some people suspect crimes in Asheville are going unreported because of the police department’s decision, beginning in June 2021, to no longer respond in-person to calls about theft, fraud and other non-serious crimes due to staffing shortages.

    “I don’t know if that’s true or not,” the mayor said. “But I would have to think they would be more of the kind of smaller, petty types of things, not violent crime.””

    She doesn’t know? That confirms my thoughts that the mayor is not supporting or working close with APD

    • Maximus Maximus September 21, 2022

      How would she know what types of crime are unreported? Crystal ball or tea leaves or what? The logic tracks.

    • Bobby Garmon Bobby Garmon September 22, 2022

      I think the mayor should take it upon herself to find out. People care deeply, as they should, about the preponderance of crime in their neighborhoods.

  3. Erik Erik September 21, 2022

    Crime maybe ticking down a bit but is the current level satisfactory? It seems a bit misleading to try to say Asheville matches nation trends just because it is going up or down. The amount of increase is what concerns people and the lingering amount of crime still concerns people. Violent crime is still too high compared to other cities of this size.

    From my personal experience, I have had to call police or other agencies for safety issues on my street 3 or 4 times in the last few month ranging from trespassing, to overdoes. This is more than when I lived in a major metropolitan city.

    The most concerning was witnessing a car stop in front of my house and a man get out to fire a handgun at another car. I reported it and followed up but the police said they couldn’t do anything about it because no “victim” reported it. How firing a gun in the city limits is ok baffles me but I know from looking at the police crime maps that didn’t show up in the stats.

    Are there safer areas than others. Sure. Is the level of crime and violence is the bad areas ok, I don’t think so.

    • Bobby Garmon Bobby Garmon September 22, 2022

      All good and legitimate points. I wish I could say the same for Tucker Carlson and Fox News reporting.

  4. Nancy S Nancy S September 21, 2022

    Perhaps Watchdog might do story about the First Step Farm folks & their means to help offenders of the law! They have wonderful plants, veggies, pumpkins, Christmas trees , etc for the community and I shop there constantly to support them! Kindness abounds with this service!!

    • Bobby Garmon Bobby Garmon September 22, 2022

      Maybe Fox News should do a segment about them.

  5. Joe Joe September 21, 2022

    Thanks for your continued work digging into stats, and reporting without exaggeration .

  6. Grant Millin Grant Millin September 21, 2022

    The death toll from Illegally Manufactured Fentanyl (IMF) in Buncombe (meaning many deaths are about Asheville) is way, way more than the ‘homicides’. I don’t know if the most ethical approach, but in NC judges can rule those deaths as at least manslaughter now.

    So, at the point where the main IMF loads enter Asheville, all those kilos come from somewhere. They come from Transnational Organized Crime. IMF is not just about Mexican cartels, but mentioning Mexican cartels creating a lot of death and destruction in Asheville is part of the Asheville Public Safety Strategy.

    Asheville Public Safety Strategy would show all of Asheville’s crime trends over 20 years. That subsequent 20 year average for the crime categories will water eyes.

    So, we need an APD force of 300 sworn officers. That may not be the number to turn down the crime trends… along with other non-LEO interventions in the Asheville Public Safety Strategy.

    Finally, the Asheville Public Safety Strategy can be based on the Biden Administration Safer America Plan:

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/01/fact-sheet-president-bidens-safer-america-plan-2/

  7. Way too local Way too local September 21, 2022

    This is a decent rebuttal to a story that was incredibly overhyped to play to the Fox News base though anyone who has lived in Asheville for more than a few months (this cuts out 70% of the “new locals,”) will tell you Asheville has gotten rough. Between homelessness plaguing every square inch of the city and police no longer staffed to deal with what start out as routine calls, I no longer feel safe in the majority of the city limits. Factor that with the unbelievable pressure law enforcement is facing to keep reported crime numbers down to avoid hurting the tourism that drives the economy for the entire area and the general anti police rhetoric embraced and encouraged by the majority of our local politicians and its no wonder things are getting worse. Not a statement coming from the right or from the left but just from a position of legitimate concern.

    • Multiple generation local Multiple generation local September 21, 2022

      Can you share where you get the information their is pressure on law enforcement to keep crime numbers low because of tourism?

      • Way too local Way too local September 21, 2022

        The men and women who put on the uniform everyday

        • Ron Wagner Ron Wagner September 22, 2022

          I have lived in WNC and visited Asheville almost all of my life, and in Asheville city since 2017. I go downtown several times a week. I have never, not once, felt unsafe anywhere, much less in the “majority of the city limits.” I get the strong impression people looking or acting differently from you is enough to make you feel unsafe, which is a you problem.

  8. Blanche Devon Blanche Devon September 21, 2022

    Statistically, a majority of the murders are either in public housing or BY public housing occupants. We know this by the addresses of the crimes and the perpetrators. The police chief and media do not mention the public housing contribution to crime, due to political correctness. Until this is turned around, all reparations money should be used to solve the crime problem in these communities. Police chief Zack and Sheriff zMiller are doing as good s job as they can, given their resources. Asheville City Council asked the city manager to recommend ways to cut the police budget. This was in response to a slogan during the riots in Asheville. (Defund the police). Because of the Council’s action, the police felt unsupported. Hence the exodus of officers. (Even tho the recommended cuts were a sham, like cutting out salaries of officers who had already left, and cutting out salaries of police jobs that were shifted to other agencies. )
    Also, Asheville enables homelessness. The homeless here are fed and shelters found. So MORE homeless come to Asheville! Stop feeding and sheltering them and many will go elsewhere.

    • Bobby Garmon Bobby Garmon September 22, 2022

      Could you explain to me again how stopping housing reduces homelessness?

  9. michael michael September 21, 2022

    this is only a small portion of the truth on the sheriff first 2 years in office he was involved in a traffic stop that he talked to the officer like we would treat trash he also showed up at a drug bust in Madison county the only reason he was there was one of the suspect was the son of one of his staff member his decision that he has made shut down crime stopper and when he took over put people in position that they had no idea what to do like the commination officer after all of was aired nothing else was reported or an conclusion just seeped under the rug

  10. Tad Cook Tad Cook September 22, 2022

    Faux News lies. They are not really news, but entertainment which gets high ratings by stoking fear and appealing to our worst instincts.

    We saw an example of this here in Seattle awhile back. Fox ran an image of a heavily armed “ANTIFA” dressed in all black, face covered in black mask. The Seattle Times ran a great investigation proving that this was a stock photo Photoshopped into a background shot of a Seattle street scene.

    But the national audience never saw this.

  11. Tatia Prieto Tatia Prieto September 23, 2022

    “complicated eyeglasses”? Does F*cker Carlson not understand how eyeglasses work now? I know, I’m being triggered by an idiot, but sometimes the depths of the idiocy still surprise me.

  12. Alan Ostmann Alan Ostmann September 26, 2022

    Fox News, selling fear, hate and lies since 1996. A favorite of those who question nothing since 1996.

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