Law honchos: Gangs, drugs challenge Asheville and Buncombe

Gangs and drugs are spurring much of the crime in Asheville and Buncombe County, both Sheriff Van Duncan and Police Chief Bill Hogan said at a forum on April 17.

At the “State of Law Enforcement” discussion, part of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s ongoing “Doughnuts and Dialogue” series, both Hogan and Duncan gave presentations on the challenges they’re facing and fielded questions from the audience.

Laying down the law: Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan, at right, speaks as Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan looks on at a “State of Law Enforcement” discussion last week.

“There’s been a 25 percent increase in shootings since 2004—most of those are gang-related,” Hogan said. “Most of the gang activity is isolated in some of our lower-income neighborhoods. Innocent folks get caught in the crossfire. Now we’re having four, five people jump on a guy on the fringes of these neighborhoods, beat them down and take their money.”

Hogan said one issue in particular that complicates the APD’s gang response is the reputation of the police department in the city’s minority communities.

“We’ll have one of our officers talking to a kid, and their big brother or their mother will come up and grab them away,” he said. “We’re working on ways to improve those relationships.”

Drug crimes compound the gang problem, said Duncan, who estimated that 75 to 90 percent of crime in the area is drug-related.

On a more positive note, the sheriff said that one of his office’s major accomplishments has been establishing a breaking-and-entering task force.

“There was one guy who has a crack problem who’s responsible for a lot of breaking and enterings—sometimes he’ll just kick a door in and rob the house. Because of [the task force] we’ve kept an eye on him,” he said, adding that the man in question was quickly arrested last time he committed a robbery, and when he is released in five months, the task force will resume monitoring him.

When asked, both Duncan and Hogan also said that underfunding of the justice system in North Carolina and the collapse of the mental-health-care system were creating considerable issues for their respective departments.

“It’s very frustrating to arrest these people and then just see them turned back out on the street,” Hogan said.

Duncan sounded a similar note.

The mental-health-care system, he said, “is a problem for both of us: Asheville faces it with the homeless problem—and we face it because without the services these people need, many of them end up in jail.”

 

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