Can This Group Spare Us Some Change? - TribPapers

Can This Group Spare Us Some Change?

People in the past enjoying a safer Asheville. Photo by Christine Robinson

Asheville – Asheville needs change, but not the spare change kind. Some of the top headlines in April alone are: Two vehicles hit by gunfire in a driveway shooting; Victim says four men robbed him at gunpoint, stealing keys to his vehicle; Couple robbed at gunpoint, the latest victims in Asheville’s increase in violent crime; and ‘Definitely a set fire’: Investigation underway after outside fire spreads to business.

While the auto robbery was in the middle of the night, the arson at Jan Davis Tires was reported at 5:30 a.m., the couple was robbed at 8 p.m. after leaving a local restaurant on Broadway, and the drive-by shooting was in the morning at the home of a deputy. People are reporting things happening in broad daylight. Others who live near downtown have had homeless people walk right into their homes in the middle of the day.

Asheville used to be a very safe place. You could go downtown at any time of the day or night and feel safe. Seldom did you hear of murder or other violent crimes, but those days are gone. Or are they?

Local Citizens Stepping Up to Help

You might have already heard of the Asheville Coalition for Public Safety (ACPS), but if not, you soon will. This nonpartisan group was co-founded by Bailey Stockwell and Honor Moor with the intention of assisting City Council and supporting our local police. Honor Moor said, “We do better as a community when we all act together in good faith to make Asheville a safer city by supporting local law enforcement.”

The ACPS held a meeting on Wednesday, April 19th, at the Explore Asheville offices. Forty-seven people were in attendance, the largest crowd yet, consisting mostly of long-time business and property owners in Asheville, concerned citizens, and advocates for the homeless. Invited speakers were new council member Maggie Ullman, WNC Rescue Mission President and CEO Michael Woods, and Asheville Police Department (APD) Captain Mike Lamb.

Unlike so many gatherings where people come with good ideas that never get followed up on, this is a dynamic team of experienced people who have already proven many times over how to get things done. Problems were discussed, and solutions offered.

Dealing with Human Issues

One of the biggest issues is, of course, homelessness. Homelessness is not a housing issue; it is a human issue. Many of the chronically homeless have mental health issues, some with addiction added. At the meeting, it was pointed out that there are actually two types of homeless: the chronically homeless and people who have fallen on hard times, and the transient vagrants, called travelers. It is the second type that is the bigger problem.

What Are The “Changes” Needed To Fix This?

The first change is that the City of Asheville is conducting a Downtown Safety Initiative, a 60-day initiative to address safety in downtown starting May 1, 2023. APD, the County Sheriff’s Department, and Asheville Fire and Rescue will be working together to curb the crime in Asheville.

You can see the full initiative by scanning the QR code and learn how citizens can help.

Changes Number Two and Three

We need to fully staff our police force. The rise in homelessness and violent crime in Asheville is in direct correlation to the reduction of our police force after certain groups in Asheville turned against law enforcement. Our officers were already underpaid, and we lost 84 officers who were no longer willing to put their lives and their family’s safety on the line. The drive-by shooting attests to the fact that the families are put in harm’s way. APD is approved to have 238 officers, but we currently only have 147. Instead of the 14 patrol officers we used to have for the downtown area, we now only have two. Due to the shortage, APD can no longer respond to certain crimes.

The ACPS and other citizens, as well as police chief Zack, are all calling for pay increases for APD. City Council member Maggie Ullman said that the City Council is in the budgeting cycle, and that includes law enforcement salaries, but another attendee asked why the county gets more than the city, which is usually the opposite in other cities.

Charleston, SC, Has a Plan that Works

Captain Lamb visited Charleston to see how they are dealing with homelessness and crime. Their program is working, but it involves local government, local advocacy groups, and local businesses and citizens working together, just what the ACPS is working towards.

Spend Our Tax Dollars At Home

The city spent $73,000 on a study that suggested using the same program that has failed in the past, Housing First. Imagine how far that “extravagant change” would have gone if applied locally. There are nonprofits here that are doing incredible work and need help. Why not spend our tax dollars at home on law enforcement and helping those in need?