The Asheville Police Department is still fully funded — at least through September. On July 30, Asheville City Council voted 5-2 to adopt an annual operating budget that will allocate three months of funding for the operation of essential services, including the APD. The discussion will pick back up on Tuesday, Sept. 22, at which point Council will vote on a budget amendment to distribute the remaining $105 million of the general fund balance to city departments and staff.
The vote comes after months of sustained demands from activists to cut the APD budget by half and reinvest the money in Asheville’s Black community. At Council’s meeting of July 28, callers spoke for more than two hours about the harms caused by police; 85 emailed comments and 40 voicemail messages were also submitted in support of the move.
But for activists, many of Council’s comments stood opposed to their desire for immediate change. “For anyone out there who thinks we’re going to see a budget presented to us that has us defunding the police by 50% on Sept. 22, that is not realistic,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said.
After the vote, community members protesting the decision marched through downtown Asheville and onto Interstate 240, shutting down traffic for much of the evening.
Council members Gwen Wisler and Vijay Kapoor voted against the measure, stating it would be irresponsible for the city to withhold full departmental funding from staff given their many other responsibilities. They cited Council’s recent decision to begin the process of reparations for Black residents, the possible removal of the Vance Monument and the continuing financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wisler and Kapoor also argued it would be irresponsible to mislead the community about plans for the police budget. Although Campbell has begun a community engagement process to gather public input and Council members have expressed a desire to “divest and invest” from the APD, the two said the city could not come up with a feasible strategy to cut police spending in such a short time.
“You are not going to have a plan to cut APD’s budget by 50% by September,” said Kapoor, who spoke for several minutes at what was likely his last Council meeting before his resignation. “We all know that. You’ll likely need to lay off over 100 officers to do that. Passing a three-month budget with no realistic chance of making this happen is going to once again set expectations sky-high and fall short.”
Some people think if Council continues to ask for miracles from city staff, “magic will happen,” Wisler said. But she emphasized that staff had no “magic wands” to wave for a solution.
“Do you know why the community doesn’t trust us?” she asked. “Because this Council won’t fess up to the fact that we actually believe the staff. We know that defunding APD by 50% immediately is not doable. But rather than tell the truth now, we’ll tie the staff in knots, require them from now until September or possibly longer to worry if this nickel should be spent in July or October.”
No Council members directly countered the assertion that immediate 50% defunding was impossible, nor did they commit to cutting the department by that amount in the near future.
Despite these criticisms, Manheimer said, Council remains committed to reimagining the Police Department and budget in a meaningful and impactful way. Her near-term goal, she added, is to determine how Asheville can structure departmental responsibilities and community partnerships in a way that promotes racial equity and economic inclusion.