Asheville Police Chief David Zack announces his retirement

Asheville Police Chief David Zack // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

by John Boyle,

Asheville Police Chief David Zack told his command staff Tuesday morning that he is retiring.

“I would like to take a moment to extend my deepest appreciation to all the officers for their unwavering dedication and exceptional efforts in overcoming the challenges we have faced together,” Zack said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon by the city. “Their commitment to our shared mission has been invaluable. I would also like to express my gratitude to the city manager’s office and the mayor and City Council for their continuous support, which has played a pivotal role in our accomplishments. Thank you all for your commitment to our team and the community we serve.”

According to the statement, City Manager Debra Campbell is currently working with Zack and other APD leadership on a transition plan. No date for his departure was given.

Earlier Tuesday, Zack told Asheville Watchdog that he had not yet made a decision on leaving Asheville law enforcement.

“What I told them is I’m seriously considering it,” Zack told The Watchdog. “I’m not going to make a decision until after the first of the year.”

Asked if he has another job offer, Zack said, “Oh no, nothing like that at all.” He said he would be looking more at potential retirement.

“I’m going to take some time and give it some thought, but I have yet to decide,” the chief said.

The city announced his retirement a few hours later.

When Asheville hired Zack, 61, as chief in February 2020, he became Asheville’s fifth police chief in a span of just nine years.

He’s presided over tumultuous times, including Black Lives Matter protests, an exodus of officers that has left the department functioning at 60 percent capacity for three years, and complaints from downtown merchants that a reduction in policing has contributed to increased crime and safety concerns.

When he was hired in 2020, WLOS reported that the frequent turnover atop Asheville’s police department had cost the city more than $150,000 in buyout costs, travel and other related expenses.

‘Spread like wildfire’

Zack’s law enforcement career began in 1984 when he worked as a New York State Corrections Officer at both Sing Sing and Attica Correctional Facilities, according to the APD website. In 1987 he joined the Cheektowaga, N.Y., Police Department, serving in multiple positions before becoming chief in 2011.

Zack said his initial plan was to stay three years in Asheville, but the chief also noted he needs one more year of employment to secure a pension.

“I told some people today I’m thinking about going, which is what you should do,” Zack said. “But I said, let me take some time over the holidays, and I’m gonna decide. But they know, I’ve been thinking about it for a while anyway. Really, there’s no story because I haven’t made a final decision.”

The chief stressed he has not made a final decision and may end up staying. He acknowledged that his comments to upper-level staff did create a stir and “spread like wildfire.”

Zack’s tenure has had its share of controversies, including the department’s reaction to protests following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May 2020. Video of APD officer puncturing water bottles earmarked for protesters at an aid station went viral, and several people were injured in the demonstrations.

In another case stemming from the protest, an Asheville police officer was sued in federal court by a protester who said he was partially blinded when the officer fired a crowd dispersion round, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

Zack is also one of several defendants in a complaint brought against the City of Asheville by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 15 community members who in December 2021 were banned from public parks for three years for “felony littering” during a protest about treatment of unhoused people.

The department has also been beset with hiring and retention problems, operating at about 60 percent of full staffing of sworn officers over the past three years. Zack has blamed poor morale, low pay and an anti-police sentiment in Asheville, as well as a wave of retirements.

The department also came under criticism after it announced in June 2021 that due to staffing shortages officers would no longer respond to a variety of non-violent crimes ranging from thefts under $1,000 with no suspect information, to fraud, scams, and identity theft. A decline in safety downtown also generated serious concern from merchants and downtown workers who complained the city’s center had become unsafe.

Council member Sage Turner said that if Zack were to retire, the timing might surprise her.

“But you know if he’s at retirement age in his career, then I shouldn’t be too surprised,” Turner said. “The job continues to be extremely challenging — operating with a staff at half-capacity or so can’t be easy. It’s already a complex community for public safety issues.”

Turner declined to offer an opinion on the job Zack has done in Asheville.

Honor Moor, co-chair of the Asheville Coalition for Public Safety, a citizens group that’s been supportive of the police department, said the chief’s departure would mark a significant loss for Asheville.

“It’s a real loss to Asheville because he understood how to work with local government and deal with the changing landscape, politically, in Asheville toward the police,” Moor said. “He was a great negotiator.”

Moor described the chief as someone able to navigate the political landscape of a very liberal city.

“I think he’s a veteran police chief with a long history of knowing how to thread the needle and work in difficult situations with negotiating for the needs of his department, and balancing that with a locally far left city, politically,” Moor said.

This story will be updated.

[Correction: Because of an editor’s error, the headline on an early version of this story incorrectly said Zack said he might resign. He said he might retire. The Watchdog regrets the error.]

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at To show your support for this vital public service go to


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