A new program to fight street drugs in Asheville is offering cold cash to folks who finger local drug dealers, but some salient details on the inner workings of the program remain vague.
“We’re providing money up front,” proclaimed Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower, the driving force behind both the recently formed Asheville-Buncombe Drug Commission and its reward plan, in an interview with Mountain Xpress. The plan is part of a multifaceted antidrug effort Mumpower is hoping to launch; other parts of it include poster campaigns and an as-yet unscheduled best-practices seminar on fighting drugs in the community.
At a Dec. 2 press conference held in front of the Asheville Police Headquarters, Mumpower unveiled reward posters that read, in part: “Our streets just aren’t safe anymore, for drug dealers.” Flanked by Chief William Hogan and surrounded by local news reporters, Mumpower called the occasion “the beginning of our effort to fight back together.” (He had previewed the posters, which were printed for free by the Asheville Citizen-Times, at the Nov. 15 City Council work session.)
Dubbed the “Dealer Down” program, the reward offer is intended to give people an extra incentive to turn in drug traffickers. “Anyone that can help us arrest a drug dealer with a large quantity — anything over a half kilo, which is roughly a pound — of crack, meth or some of these other hard drugs, we are going to immediately provide them with $1,000,” Mumpower told the small crowd bundled against the bitter cold. An equivalent amount would be awarded in the event of a conviction, he said.
“That’s unusual, because [with] most reward programs, people have to wait until there’s an arrest and a conviction,” he added. “We’re going to give them some immediate money for trying to help us.”
Hogan, too, voiced support for the program, noting that it targets quantities of drugs sufficient to trigger federal charges — and, therefore, longer sentences for dealers. The contact number listed on the posters (259-5692) belongs to the Police Department’s drug-suppression unit. But Mumpower cautioned in comments to Xpress that it would take more than just a phone call to get a reward, though he did not specify just what sort of cooperation might be required for an arrest to qualify for a reward.
Mumpower has remained equally vague about where the money will come from, though he has said it would be made up of private donations, not city funds. He did say that it is his responsibility to find the needed funds, and he indicated that money is available now if someone comes forward with information in the near future. But he’s remaining mum on just who is ponying up the dough, saying only, “Someone at the table has guaranteed that we’ll cover what we have to cover.”
At press time, the Drug Commission had yet to set up a system for handling and accounting for the funds. Mumpower says he will look to other seasoned organizations, such as Crime Stoppers, for ideas and assistance.
The program also needs volunteers to put up posters and educate the community, according to Mumpower. The commission meets for one hour a month, he said, adding, “These are pretty serious men and women who don’t have a lot of time.”
The 19-member commission includes health experts and representatives from law enforcement and other local government bodies, including the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Mumpower formed the group in August, then sought and received the endorsements of City Council, the Board of Commissioners and several local civic groups and institutions.
From its inception, the commission was designed to be independent of government influence, which Mumpower says will enable it to make progress without getting bogged down by bureaucracy and politics.
“If you put it under the auspices of the city, then they can control it,” he explains. At the same time, however, the various endorsements might provide the commission with access to resources that Mumpower said he intends to tap when he can. For example, the city’s Public Information office sent out e-mails announcing Mumpower’s press conference.
“We’re all looking for ideas to go at this from every angle we can,” says Mumpower.