The city of Asheville, North Carolina, has published a 60-day initiative to address crime following calls to defund the police.
The city stated that starting May 1, there will be an influx of police in city parks, as well as an increased focus on cleaning up public areas filled with needles and human waste, according to ABC News. Police officers started leaving in droves in 2021 after a push to defund the police overwhelmed the department and caused many officers to be assaulted, according to The New York Times.
“Downtown continues to experience one of the highest concentrations of violent crime in the city. 10% of the city’s violent crime occurs within an area that covers less than 0.5 square miles,” said Police Chief David Zack to Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF).
“There has been a steady increase in violent crime, which started to peak in 2019, and in 2022 it trended at a historically high rate. A reduction of officers does play a role in the increase in crime,” Chief Zack said to DCNF.
In 2020, there were five days of unrest in Asheville following the death of George Floyd, followed by a public outcry to defund the police. Some residents also acted harshly toward the police, The New York Times reported.
“They said that we have become the bad guys, and we did not get into this to become the bad guys,” Zack told The New York Times.
“We are really facing a complex problem, and it takes time to figure out how to best address it,” said Asheville’s mayor, Esther Manheimer. Violent crime in Asheville increased by 17% from 2021 to 2022. (RELATED: Increased Crime Causes San Francisco To Bump Pay For Police Officers)
The City is rolling out a 60-day initiative to address safety downtown starting May 1, 2023
— City of Asheville (@CityofAsheville) April 20, 2023
Asheville has seen their police force shrink by 140 officers since June of 2020, ABC News reported. They have since paid “hundreds of thousands” more in compensation in an attempt to attract new recruits, but they were only able to recruit 18 officers last year.
“Unfortunately, I’m getting more and more people that come by and say, ‘We just don’t want to go downtown anymore,’ and it scares me to death that we have that air about it,” said business owner Jan Davis at a community public safety meeting.
“The message was not about police reform, but, ‘We endorse violence against police,’” said Police Chief David Zack. “A lot of our experience is walking out the door,” Zack told The New York Times.
Now, the city is desperate to retain its officers and increase their presence amid crime increases in the city. “The approach that we’re taking is data-driven, and driven primarily with what we’ve seen with rising violent crime downtown but also rising property crime,” Chief Zack said to ABC News.
Along with increasing police presence, the initiative seeks to implement a community responder pilot program led by the fire department to respond to individuals suffering through a mental health crisis. They also plan to partner with community leaders to identify areas of public safety concern, and a focused effort to identify and remedy streetlight outages and remove graffiti, according to ABC News.
“APD has seen an outpour of community and local business support this past year. This can clearly be seen in recent efforts made by the Asheville Coalition of Public Safety,” Chief Zack told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The group of business owners and community members raised funds for multiple billboards in various locations throughout the city to show support for the Asheville Police Department and help in hiring efforts,” Zack added.
This article has been updated with comments from Asheville Police Chief David Zack
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