Two benches at the intersection of Haywood and Walnut streets were reversed last week: They’re now back to back instead of facing each other. A city spokesperson says the step was taken when, after investigating complaints of drug dealing and other criminal acts, the police “found that certain people were using the positioning of the benches to view and discreetly communicate police activity to one another.”
“Members of the downtown community contacted Asheville Police Department concerning activities taking place on the benches at the intersection of Haywood and Walnut,” spokesperson Dawa Hitch writes in an e-mail to Xpress.
What activities? “Our Charlie District officers had received complaints and concerns from the downtown community regarding hand-to-hand drug deals on these benches,” APD spokesperson Melissa Williams writes in an e-mail to Xpress. “We also had complaints about aggressive panhandling, individuals sleeping on the benches, alcohol violations and fights there.”
After surveilling the area, according to Hitch and Williams, the APD found that some people using the benches were communicating about police activity.
“Some individuals were using the benches to act as lookouts to warn of police activity/presence in the area while criminal activity was going on,” Williams asserts.
“The benches are an important asset to the downtown streetscape and rather than removing the benches, APD suggested repositioning them in order to deter criminal activity without losing any seating,” Hitch continues, and answering the APD’s request, the Public Works department reversed the benches last week.
Repositioning the benches is an effort to deter some of the negative congregations at that spot without affecting the availability of public seating,” Williams notes.
However, Hitch asserts, the step was taken with community input.
“This alternative was discussed in more than one meeting with representatives from the Asheville Downtown Association, Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors, customers of Mobilia and the Homeless Initiative,” she writes. “Additionally, business owners are exploring the possibility of purchasing and maintaining a planter to put between the two benches to enhance the cosmetic design.”
— David Forbes, senior reporter