More than 100 West Asheville citizens crowded into a meeting hall on one of the hotter evenings of the year to hear reports from the Asheville Police Department and to talk to neighbors about what many felt was a rash of crimes in West Asheville.
The meeting started promptly at 7 p.m., on Aug. 3, called and chaired by West Asheville photographer Bill Rhodes, who cited a desire to go by clock time “and not West Asheville time” (5-15 minutes late). In attendance were three sitting City Council members, Mayor Terry Bellamy, Bill Russell (who is running for a second term), and West Asheville resident Gordon Smith. Also attending was City Council candidate Lael Gray of Montford.
The evening started with City of Asheville Neighborhood/Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Stickford, who quickly handed the microphone to Wade Wood, interim Asheville chief of police, and other officers. Chad McCall and Joshua Simpson, the officers assigned to West Asheville, handed out their business cards with their 24/7 phone numbers (“If we’re off duty when you call, we’ll get back to you when we return”).
The audience wrote down questions on cards, which APD officers answered. One of the more surprising insights from the police came in the revelation that crime is not up, but down. In a normal year, there are 8,000 to 10,000 crime incidents. At the current rate, there will be 8,500 in Asheville this year, which is a drop. And there are not more, but fewer daytime burglaries, likely due to the higher unemployment rate, which means more people are home during the day. Yet, due to social media, police officers felt there was more awareness of the crime that was occurring.
Detective Kevin Taylor has investigated three of the recent home invasions. He thinks there was some drug-related motivation, though perhaps not in all three. Also said by officers: There is no specific North Carolina law against home invasion, but it is a class-one burglary if someone is home. In the view of one officer, most home invasions are personal — the perpetrator is known to the victim.
Tips for reducing one’s vulnerability:
– Increase outdoor lighting;
– Lock doors when home, as well as when not; and
– While the officers didn’t explicitly state that people should have air conditioning, their statements that windows should be kept closed indicated that.
The coordinator of West Asheville’s Weed and Seed program — established in Asheville because the crime rate in some neighborhoods was so high — talked about the success of the program: Crime was down 35 percent, with the biggest success story being Burton Street.
After the Q-and-A session with police, the crowd, which had thinned in a lightly air-conditioned room overpowered by all its occupants, broke into five neighborhood clusters to discuss further steps. In my cluster, people shared their emails via a sign-in list, talked about block parties and other ways to get to know each other and traded news of the neighborhood listservs that currently exist.
The meeting came to a close at 8:30, as promptly as it began at 7, with a huge round of applause for meeting organizer Bill Rhodes.
— reporting by Jim Barton; photos by Michael Muller
The Asheville Police Department earlier had released details, including suspect descriptions, for four home invasions in the West Asheville area, some of which may be related. Public speculation and concerns about home invasions in the area have increased in recent days.
The crimes, taking place between May and July, led some residents to form West Asheville Watch, an online gathering place to share information.