Council adopts $770,000 cut to APD budget

A MOMENT OF CALM: Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell stands with APD Capt. Jackie Stepp during protests on June 3. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Asheville has become a cautionary “tale of two cities,” City Council member Sheneika Smith observed at Council’s meeting of Sept. 22. 

There’s the city that sees Asheville Police Department protection as the only means to safety, Smith said, that claims “backing the blue” is essential to maintain order. And there’s the city that believes more police officers mean increased danger, that the only way forward is to divest from the APD and reinvest in partnerships that support the Black community. 

Neither city was happy after Council members voted 5-2 to adopt a budget amendment that will cut APD funding by $770,000, a roughly 2.5% drop from the $30.1 million allocation originally proposed by City Manager Debra Campbell in May.  

Smith and Brian Haynes voted against the measure, claiming it did not do enough to address the community’s concerns. “It does not advance our stated goals and instead perpetuates systemic racism,” Haynes said, adding that even with the new reallocation, overall police spending had increased by $4.1 million over the last five years. 

The vote marked the final step in the city’s lengthy budget process for fiscal year 2020-21. In July, Council passed a budget with only three months of funding for city departments; members had agreed to revisit allocations for the remaining $105 million in the general fund budget after residents had shared their ideas about public safety. That budget gave the APD more than $5.5 million to sustain operations through the end of September; an additional $2.4 million had been allocated to the department for July in an interim budget adopted June 23.

Although the newly passed allocation reduces funding managed by the APD, it does not eliminate any existing city services. Seven positions currently handling animal control, communications and park patrols will be reassigned; roughly $350,000 in savings from recent police resignations and unfilled vacancies will be distributed as one-time payments to city departments and partner organizations. Campbell emphasized that if other public safety programs become ready to implement before the end of the fiscal year, additional cuts to the APD budget will occur. 

Priorities for the 2021-22 budget cycle include the creation of a rapid response team for mental health, homelessness and domestic violence calls, Campbell said, potentially modeled after the CAHOOTS program currently operating in Eugene, Ore. She also hopes to further consolidate the 911 emergency call center with Buncombe County, develop mentorship opportunities for school resource officers and enhance safety in Housing Authority neighborhoods.

Unlike several past Council meetings, which have overwhelmingly been dominated by residents calling for police divestment and reparations for Asheville’s Black community as advocated by the intergenerational collective Black AVL Demands, several commenters phoned into the meeting to express anger that Asheville officials would consider any cuts to the APD. (Starting with its meeting of July 28, the city introduced new rules for public comment that some activists argued were meant to stifle dissent.) 

“I would beg of you to not decrease funding for the police department,” said Andrea Olson, a caller from East Asheville, who told Council her husband is a former Raleigh police officer. “I want to see an investment to increase the protection of all of us citizens who are disturbed by what’s happening … Safety’s gone down; tourism is going to go down.”

Other public commenters, including Roland Williams of West Asheville, criticized Council for not doing more to protect all of the city’s residents. “As a Black man in this city, I’ve been racially profiled here in Asheville as young as 12 years old,” Williams said. “There’s a very deep-seated issue with the police force here in Asheville, and with the engagement of the Black and brown community and then to not do anything to directly affect that? It really makes me question the city’s commitment to this work.” 

Keith Young, one of Council’s three Black members along with Smith and Antanette Mosley, ultimately supported the amendment. But he lamented a lack of input from the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, which he said Campbell (who is also Black) has generally disregarded. New policies must address the root of the issue and not just shift money around, he said, because at its core, policing is riddled with “huge disparities between Black and white residents.”

Smith dedicated her “no” vote to the Black community, thanking members for their continued engagement despite being “sick and tired” of the situation and the lack of citywide action. 

“The path forward is not through reform. Reform is deferred maintenance; reform is what we should already have for basic protection,” Smith said. “From this point on, we’re going to look for something substantive, something that is worth our time, something that is worth our historic loss and something that is worth this occasion.” 

After the vote, state Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) released a statement vowing to introduce a bill next year to defund cities that reduce their police budgets. “While municipalities have control over their local budgets, the state legislature also has control over its budget, and I intend to help create an environment where public safety is a top priority,” the statement read. “The far-left Asheville City Council’s decisions are reckless and endanger public safety.”

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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2 thoughts on “Council adopts $770,000 cut to APD budget

  1. pottsvision

    “… the police force here in Asheville, and with the engagement of the Black and brown community ”

    https://mountainx.com/news/asheville-gun-crime-up-55-since-2016-police-say/

    Stop the violence and the cops won’t need to be so “engaged”…

    This persistent claim of innocence does not make it true – no perspective is offered, just emotional politics. Statistics do not lie, there was also an article that I cannot find recently written about how black gun violence is disproportionate in AVL – the article cried “racism” as the cause… but “racism” has nothing to do with it. Crime and violence in general are the problem, and those crimes are done by people… it is *those people* who need to be “defunded” and “protested”. The cops keep the peace, and very rarely cause a problem… however some neighborhoods you cannot safely walk through – and some neighborhoods are many magnitudes more violent than others… these are concentrated in the “black and brown” areas – and you can make of that what you will… but see the above link – who lives in Shiloh, PVA, and Hillcrest? What happens on a daily basis? What do people choose to do – and will any of the people fighting for “justice” ever actually address the actual violence?

    Its easier to lash out at the cops as they are duty bound to NOT retaliate – the negative interactions are misreported and blown out of proportion for political reasons (see the leaked evidence on the Taylor case, you will NOT find this info in your echo chamber/curated newsfeed: https://youtu.be/Yh9Czx1cmnk )… if you lashed out at the people who are selling drugs, in gangs, stealing/robbing etc they are NOT duty bound in any way and likely WILL retaliate. Cowardess of good people allows a community to fall, or perhaps even a majority of people really enjoying the “gangsta” culture… and THAT culture is what is terrorizing “black and brown” neighborhoods, NOT the culture of the cops… and it is all too common, it is all too normal to run into someone like that… this terrorizes the good people in the neighborhood and forces them to deal with something they should not have to deal with – the cops help quell the most negative elements, the good people know that… the people playing 24/7 music celebrating drugs/violence and reducing everything to sex and money, and those that enable them – those people might tell a different story, bt why are you listening to them?

    At some point it would be nice to stop being racist and let Asheville be Asheville – not “black” Asheville etc… but as I’ve gone around to all the neighborhoods and talked to people I’ve seen first hand how people self segregate… nobody says someone living in the French Broad projects can’t go hiking – or kayaking – or cycling – or just hang out anywhere… quite the opposite, the red carpet would be rolled out to ANYONE living in that situation who took it upon themselves to enjoy nature… HOWEVER, be my guest to ask the people who sit around every day and leave trash on the ground/harass everyone who passes by when the last time they went for a nice hike – I’ve done this, and it quickly turned into a hostile situation on many occasions… that is real “outreach”… but who is being reached out to?

    These are the people who create many of the problems for the WHOLE of Asheville… yet the greatest recipients of this “culture” are those who get robbed/extorted/beat for simply living in the area – creating a vicious cycle of violence that plays out readily in the statistics.

    Other parts of AVL I can ask “when was the last time you took a nice hike?” and at least not get threatened…

    Its not the cops, and if you think the cops are the problem you probably lack any real life experience… one in a million cop experiences are obviously “negative” and there are consequences in these cases more times than not (you were NOT there, you do NOT know all the facts…) – the problems of the community are brought by people EVERY DAY who are not “nice people”, and they are there every day… and with the cops being tied down, with the cops likely getting neutered – the violent people are only going to be emboldened… and if you want that, thats fine, take care of yourself – maybe then you will learn the meaning of “personal responsibility” and get a nice reality check… or maybe you’ll never learn, as so it seems will be the case for most people backing a variety of euphemistically titled “movements” that have resulted in a major uptick in violence, division, mental illness, and sexual crimes…

  2. Nick

    It’s blatantly obvious that the police are NOT here to Serve and protect, but rather oppress us and carry out the will of the ruling class. Police are here to keep order for the people in control and NOT provide safety for the people being controlled. Police are the very mechanism that the global elites use to continue their system of oppression.

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