Open letter from Esther Manheimer, Mayor of Asheville, Sandra Kilgore, Vice Mayor of Asheville, Maggie Ullman, City Councilwoman Chair of the Environment and Safety Committee, Sage Turner, City Councilwoman Chair of the Housing and Community Development Committee and Sheneika E. Smith, City Councilwoman Chair of the Equity and Engagement Committee
Dear Citizens of Asheville,
We are a coalition of elected leaders who have chosen to make the well-being and protection of everyone in our community our primary concern. With this open letter we want the community to hear from us directly, make our commitment clear, and elevate the conversation of public safety.
We believe that public safety requires a comprehensive and multifaceted approach. The approach must address and seek to prevent crime and the toll crime takes on residents, employees, business owners, and visitors. And the approach must address and seek to prevent the underlying root causes of human actions that put safety at risk and beget criminal activity. This both/and problem solving approach to a safer community is rooted in practical optimism. Our optimism is nourished by the fact that our city is making progress on public safety by using three key strategies: hiring first responders, addressing root causes, and trying data driven new approaches.
Invest in Police
First responders have been experiencing burnout and leaving their jobs in record numbers since the start of the pandemic. We have invested in restaffing the Asheville Police Department, and we are making progress. Interest in working for APD is increasing in both the number of applicants and the lateral transfers from other agencies. Our investments include increasing police pay by 6%, offering additional pay for advanced certifications, more than doubling incentive pay for working night shifts, offering sign on and retention bonuses, and implementing an intensive hiring campaign to attract new staff.
And Invest in Housing
Data and lived experience attest to the effectiveness of long-term, systemic, holistic approaches to improving well-being in communities and thereby reducing the frequency and severity of criminal activity. We have invested in addressing economic disparity, housing unaffordability, addiction, and mental health care with our partners to improve public safety. Since 2014 the Asheville City Council has provided funding to support building 443 affordable homes and this year we expect 198 new permanent supportive housing units becoming available specifically for unsheltered homeless people.
The official data submitted to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development calculated a 26% reduction in unsheltered homeless from 2022-2023.
And Invest in Health
Our state legislature’s recent vote to expand medicaid will help alleviate the strain that untreated addiction and illness places on law enforcement, paramedics, and fire departments. Billions of dollars of federal investment will include more mental health services, addiction recovery, and healthcare access. Although the city of Asheville isn’t a lead agency addressing public health we see growing leadership from our partners. For example local private investment in mental health includes a 120-bed facility that Mission Health plans to open in August.
And Invest in New Approaches
The city’s 60 Day Downtown Safety Initiative was so effective it is no longer a short term initiative but a standing city program. In only 60 days this collaboration between city departments, the Sheriff’s department, and community groups resolved 41 unsafe lighting issues, investigated 57 noise complaints, hosted eight volunteer clean-ups, cleaned 348 miles of sidewalk, removed 4,000 graffiti tags, provided 115 proactive wellness checks, AND issued 463 police verbal warnings, 56 citations, and 94 arrests. We are exploring options for replicating these successes in more neighborhoods.
Another new effort we began this spring is the Community Responder Program. This both/and problem solving approach puts firefighters who are specifically trained in crisis response and mental health issues on our streets. In the first two months of this program their proactive approach included 550 engagements, 81% of which were initiated by the firefighters. These first responders have proven their ability to build community, to de-escalate situations, and to involve our police force when needed. The Asheville Police Department is a crucial partner because they have the skills and authority to issue verbal warning, issue citations, and safely make arrests.
And Include Everyone
When safety is a shared responsibility as a community we will increasingly interrupt patterns of violence and reduce crime citywide. When we choose the both/and problem solving approach we become more resilient and more effective.
As your elected leaders, we will continue to implement both immediate solutions and long-term strategies to ensure the safety, well-being, and prosperity of our community. Please join us.
Esther Manheimer, Mayor of Asheville
Sandra Kilgore, Vice Mayor of Asheville
Maggie Ullman, City Councilwoman Chair of the Environment and Safety Committee
Sage Turner, City Councilwoman Chair of the Housing and Community Development Committee
Sheneika E. Smith, City Councilwoman Chair of the Equity and Engagement Committee