Buncombe sheriff: Crime is decreasing outside Asheville

DECREASING CRIME: Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller reported a decrease in violent crime in Buncombe County outside of Asheville at the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting Oct. 17. Photo by Greg Parlier

Across many categories, crime is down in Buncombe County outside Asheville, Sheriff Quentin Miller reported to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 17.

Across eight serious crime categories reported to the State Bureau of Investigation, Miller reported a 15% decrease from 2021-22 and a 2% decrease from the previous 10-year low, in 2019. Buncombe had 1,585 crimes in 2022, such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson, according to Miller’s presentation. Misdemeanors are not included in those statistics. SBI numbers for 2023 will be available next fall, said BCSO spokesperson Aaron Sarver.

For comparison, in the City of Asheville, violent crime is down 18% to date compared with 2022 and 1% higher than the five-year average as of Oct. 1, according to an Asheville Police Department report to City Council this month.

So far this year, homicides also are down, as only one has been reported compared with four last year and 17 since 2019, Miller said. The Sheriff’s Office has brought charges on all 17 of those cases since Miller took office, he said.

However, for crimes involving drugs and narcotics, Buncombe already had 345 crimes as of Oct. 15, compared with 381 in all of 2022, according to Miller’s presentation.

Miller also reported on a co-responder unit, piloted in Buncombe this summer with Emergency Medical Services’ Community Paramedic Program to limit arresting people who were committing minor crimes because of a mental health condition.

“We’re trying to get resources to that person as opposed to them coming to the jail. It’s like a diversion program, if you will,” Miller said. “We’re trying to meet people where they are.”

When responding to a call that may involve a mental health issue, a deputy will respond with a community paramedic and try to deescalate the situation if a mental health episode is driving someone to commit a nonviolent crime, Miller said.

Taylor Jones, director of Emergency Medical Services for Buncombe, said the partnership is working, and he is proud to work with Miller on what they said was “leading work in the nation.”

“When I became a commissioner, we were talking about spending $50 million to build a new jail to put people in it who shouldn’t even be there. But now, thank goodness, we’re looking at other ways that are a lot more positive to the community,” said Commissioner Al Whitesides.

With the pilot complete, Miller said the agencies are working to implement the program permanently.

School district consolidation study

Commissioners unanimously agreed to act as lead entity for a feasibility study on the potential merger of the county’s two school districts to satisfy a state mandate.

The study will conduct academic, operational and financial analyses of the two districts, as well as study community impacts of a potential merger, which has been discussed on and off in the county since 1963.

Both boards of education have voted to designate Buncombe County as the lead entity on the study at recent school board meetings. Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools must both report “findings and recommendations” to the N.C. General Assembly by February 2025, according to the law.

While Buncombe’s state legislative delegation and county commissioners have expressed support of the study, neither school district has expressed a desire to merge. The county considered reviewing consolidation early in 2023 even before the state mandate but held off after ACS officials asked for time to find a new superintendent. Maggie Fehrman was named ACS superintendent in June.

School district mergers can be initiated by both school districts, a county commission that is in charge of funding both districts or the General Assembly, but a “significant” price tag would come with ordering consolidation, said Buncombe spokesperson Lillian Govus.

Several commissioners expressed skepticism Oct. 17 that both school districts would reach the same conclusion, which Chair Brownie Newman said was likely necessary for anything to change.

Commissioner Amanda Edwards, whose husband, Derek Edwards, is principal at Asheville High School, was more optimistic that a mutual conclusion could be reached.

“Call me an eternal optimist,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable, but ultimately we will get to that point where I think there is consensus among both groups.”

Rachel Nygaard, director of strategic partnerships for Buncombe County, said the county would submit a request for proposals in November for firms to conduct the study and hoped to have a vendor to start work on the project in the spring.

In other news

Commissioners heard an update on proposed changes to the county’s employee personnel policies. County Manager Avril Pinder highlighted what she said was the most potentially “controversial,” a change to the reduction-in-force policy, which comes into play if the county has to lay off a significant number of employees for extenuating circumstances, such as a severe economic downturn.

Currently, the county provides each employee one week of severance pay for each year of service with the county, up to 12 weeks, Pinder said. According to the new proposal, which Pinder said several staff members disagreed with, the Board of Commissioners would determine how much to provide as it was happening.

Pinder said she wanted to retain some flexibility because the current policy could put a strain on the county budget.

Several commissioners, including Newman and Whitesides, disagreed with Pinder, saying if the situation was that dire for the county, departing staff members, some of whom would be left losing their career, would deserve departing pay.

Commissioners discussed potentially raising the threshold for severance pay while lowering the maximum as a compromise. The topic will be discussed further at future meetings.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

2 thoughts on “Buncombe sheriff: Crime is decreasing outside Asheville

  1. indy499

    This article covers seemingly unrelated topics but they are related to our political structure. There is no reason to have a city and a county—-it is horribly inefficient and disproportionately burdens city taxpayers with the tab.

    1. “neither school district has expressed a desire to merge” is lol funny. No sets of bureaucrats are going to support a merger and elimate 1/22 the cushy jobs. we will do the worst of all actions which is float an RFP to study a merger, hire an out or regional consultant, thank them for their wonderful work and put the study on the shelf where similar go to die.

    2. Never surprising that county crime is lower than the city, because that is true everywhere. Part of the reason in our cae, however, is that city citizens pay the same county tax rate as unincorporated county residents. The county provides all of the policing for the unincorporated county residents and a tiny part of the city policing, eg, serving warrants, but no real policing. A city/county merger would elimiante this glaring disparity.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    the controlling ‘education’ democrats REFUSE to honor the will of the people to only operate ONE government school system in Buncombe County…
    Remember…there is no real DEI as long as there are two separate systems…there is not one reason to continue to fund two systems…not one.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.