By Leslee Kulba- For the second year in a row, Asheville’s Police Chief Tammy Hooper requested more funding to patrol downtown 24-7. She estimates she would need $1 million per year going forward plus costs of equipping officers in the first year. She said her department was staffed to serve a population of 87,000; but, as the oft-referenced white paper, “Asheville, NC 2010: A Financial Crossroads” highlighted, the city’s daytime population is closer to 160,000.
Hooper reported that Part 1 crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft) had increased year over year; most of the increase coming in the form of aggravated assaults. While domestic assaults increased 33 percent, the change is not attributed to increased incidents, but to changes in policy that has made it easier and safer for victims to report. Non-domestic aggravated assault is up 22 percent, and reflects an increase in gun violence.
The hottest spot for Part 1 crime was downtown, where 351 of 3646 crimes occurred. Three of the other top-five hot spots were public housing neighborhoods: Hillcrest, Pisgah View, and Deaverview. The fourth hottest spot was the Walmart shopping center on Bleachery Boulevard. The 24-hour retail center’s 58 incidents are characterized as theft, robbery, and burglary. Part 1 property crimes also ran high at the Asheville Mall. Crime is on the rise south of downtown, and Hooper anticipates the River Arts District will become another hot spot.
Incidents of violent crime were most prevalent downtown and in four public housing developments: Deaverview, Hillcrest, Pisgah View, and Aston Park Tower. In the first three neighborhoods combined, gun-related calls for service have tripled since 2014. Hooper said one would not know by paying attention to media outlets, but gun crime was really up in Deaverview. Gun-related calls for service, including multiple homicides, had escalated during the first half of 2016. In response, the department started requiring all patrol officers to walk the neighborhood for an hour to build community relations. With that, gun calls fell by a third. Cameras newly-installed by the housing authority are expected to further decrease the number of incidents.
Staffing up will be challenging for a few reasons. First, it will take eighteen months to train officers; even experienced recruits require acculturation. Secondly, police continue to be handicapped as society largely continues to reinforce superstitions that people who look different are not to be trusted. For this reason, several years ago, Mayor Terry Bellamy said she wanted the police force to “mirror the community.” From a human resources perspective, it was like being asked to make bricks without straw.
In 2016, as part of a community-mirroring recruitment plan, the APD “maximized efforts to increase African-American applicants and hires.” It advertised nationally using a “network of minority outlets,” worked with local community leaders, and attended more than fifteen recruiting events in three states. The efforts resulted in 560 people applying for work, only 36 of whom were hired. For the counting colors routine, 26 were white males; 7, white females, and 3, Latino males.
When asked to explain why those thirty-six were selected, Hooper explained applicants must pass a written test before attending Basic Law-Enforcement Training, and half the applicants usually fail to make the grade. Then, more are weeded out in a preliminary physical agility test and eventually a more strenuous physical test, an interview, a polygraph test, a psychological assessment, and a medical assessment. Hooper said the city’s 93-94 percent attrition rate is about average.
On a positive note, Hooper said fourteen additional recruits who will advance to BLET this year include one African-American and one Latino. She added the department is stepping up its minority outreach, and is seriously considering Councilman Keith Young’s suggestion to help minorities survive the screening process by providing previews of what to expect on the first weeding-out test.
That said, the APD, like all other police departments in the nation, has been tainted by the sensationalism of racially-motivated violence, apparently and allegedly perpetrated by a few bad apples in other police departments. This only compounds distrust in minority communities that has for generations effectively given criminals a safe haven. Consequently, trained, sworn, and gun-carrying officers are more and more serving as social workers, bridging perceived divides, instead of decisively taking action to protect innocents.
To prevent an eruption like the one that engulfed Ferguson, Missouri following the Michael Brown incident; all Asheville patrol officers will soon be equipped with body cameras. The department has revised its use-of-force policy to the point not only civil rights advocate and city councilman Cecil Bothwell is pleased, but, according to Hooper, it is already closely aligned with revised standards soon to be released. Officers, in addition, receive training in racial sensitivity and participate in programs that allow them to serve as role models for high-risk youth.