Information obtained by Xpress shows that out of 25 communications positions at the Asheville Police Department, 10 are vacant, leaving the department 40 percent short of its full number.
According to the figures, obtained from the city of Asheville with a records request, at the beginning of this year, the APD had three vacant dispatcher positions out of 25, and this was steady with the number of personnel it had six months before. But over the next six months, the APD lost seven people, leaving the department without 40 percent of its full communications staff by July 1.
The number of vacancies for sworn officers has remained relatively steady, and even declined slightly. In July 2012, the APD was down 21 officers out of 215 allowed in its budget. By January 2013, the number was 20 vacancies out of 219 officers, and by July this year there were 14 vacancies out of 219 positions.
In a recent article, Xpress reported on the communications breakdown behind one Ashevillean waiting an hour and 46 minutes for the police to arrive after he reported an armed suspect in his neighborhood. After investigating the incident, APD command staff assert that an unusual collision of circumstances led to an equally unusual breakdown resulting in the long response time. But they also noted that the department is unusually low on communications staff, and that it takes experienced workers in those positions to quickly and correctly assess the severity of calls for service and prioritize them accordingly.
Deputy Chief Wade Wood has attributed the dearth of communications staff to “our natural cycle of attrition” and the high-stress nature of the role in a busy city with a growing population. However, recent months have seen public disputes between the Fraternal Order of Police and APD Chief William Anderson, with the FOP’s leadership asserting that Anderson’s management style has resulted in higher turnover and more disgruntled APD staff than before.