The Asheville Police Department has followed through with a number of promises Chief David Zack made in June. But the one demand residents and activists repeatedly called for — that the city divest from the APD and invest resources in Asheville’s Black community — has not been heard, some community members say.
At Asheville City Council’s meeting of Dec. 8, City Manager Debra Campbell and Zack each gave an update on their respective 30/60/90-day work plans to address racial justice and economic inclusion initiatives. City leadership created these work plans after the intergenerational coalition Black AVL Demands repeatedly requested citywide action following the summer’s racial justice protests, Campbell explained.
Instead of reducing the APD budget by 50% as the group demanded, Campbell opted to reassign several positions previously under the APD to other city departments in September, resulting in a 2.5% cut in funding. As of Dec. 8, six animal and park warden positions had been moved to the Development Services and Parks and Recreation departments, Campbell said, and a new “neighborhood services specialist” position has been posted.
The city is also forming a new team to focus on data transparency, she noted. City recruiters are looking for a performance analyst and a data communication specialist to work with the Information Technology Services Department.
Internally, the APD has undergone a restructuring first outlined in June, Zack said. A new Community Engagement Division launched in October to “quickly and effectively respond to neighborhood and quality-of-life issues,” Zack said. The team is composed of community resource, public housing and school resource officers; in November, the new unit responded to 23 neighborhood issues and 34 complaints regarding homeless camps, he added.
The department’s Drug Suppression Unit was eliminated as officers shifted their focus from low-level drug offenses to violent crime, Zack continued, and an anonymous tip line is now up and running.
Three budget amendments directing $152,604 to the APD were discussed separately from the rest of Council’s consent agenda at the request of new member Kim Roney, including two grant applications to the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the purchase of bulletproof vests and rifles. Consideration of a $20,000 private donation to fund tactical deescalation training was also heard separately.
Adopting the amendments would not add funding to the APD budget, Campbell clarified after a lengthy discussion that included many comments from members of the public. Budget amendments and grants must come before Council for authorization, she explained, but the projected grant awards had already been factored into the department’s 2020-21 budget.
Community members calling into the virtual meeting expressed frustration that funding for additional weaponry was on the table. “Throwing more money at an already militarized police force for more weapons, especially long-range rifles, only continues to reinforce police officer’s incorrect perception that their lives are constantly in danger and they need to kill us before they are killed themselves,” said Rebekah Morrisson.
“Putting rifles in the hands of cops doesn’t do any good for our community,” echoed Chloe Moore, who identified as a Black farmer in Asheville. “Can the rifles feed people? No. Can they provide a healthy education for people in our community? No. Can they give us stable housing to help people avoid violent situations? No. Can they murder one of our neighbors? Yes.”
New rifles purchased with the DOJ grant will replace “unserviceable and malfunctioning” weapons currently in APD’s arsenal, Zack noted. “In this city, we’ve had 44 people shot, we’ve responded to more than 600 calls of gun discharges in this city alone and we’ve had 11 people murdered. Unfortunately, we need to have the tools that we need to protect the public,” he said.
The budget amendments ultimately passed, despite Roney’s opposition to all three. New member Sage Turner joined Roney in voting against the rifle amendment.
Budget discussions will resume later this winter as city departments begin developing requests for the 2021-22 operating budget. Independent facilitators Shemekka Ebony Coleman of #IAmBrilliant and Christine Edwards and Glenn Thomas of Amplify Charlotte are expected to return to lead discussions surrounding public safety, Campbell said.