If you hang out in downtown Asheville late on weekend nights, you may notice sheriff’s deputies patrolling the streets starting next weekend.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved a $56,000 budget amendment 6-0 (Commission Chair Brownie Newman was absent) on Jan. 16 to fund a proposal from Sheriff Quentin Miller to send four deputies downtown between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. BCSO also will pay a deputy to monitor video surveillance of the downtown area in the Real Time Intelligence Center. The initiative is slated to run Jan. 26 through June, Miller said.
“Right now, we’re simply saying we want to go downtown to show a presence because we know the staffing at the city has been challenging for them. And we want to support them,” Miller told commissioners at the Jan. 16 meeting.
The funding comes from money originally allocated to pay for school resource officers at Buncombe County Schools. The county set aside too much for that program.
Eventually, Miller hopes each deputy will pair up with an officer from the Asheville Police Department.
“Over the past few weeks, [APD Interim Chief Mike Lamb] and I have engaged in a series of discussions and meetings that have been productive. Based on our conversations, I am optimistic that this downtown initiative will be a joint effort with APD. My leadership team will be meeting with APD’s leadership team soon for further discussion, and I want to leave space for those meetings to bring forth the best possible ideas as to how to implement this downtown initiative,” Miller said in a written statement to the press after the meeting.
APD spokesperson Samantha Booth called the ongoing talks about potential collaboration between Lamb and Miller “productive.”
“We can implement effective strategies by sharing the necessary resources to address public safety needs by working together,” Booth said.
The updated proposal pegged the cost for the extra patrols at $88,000 if BCSO worked alone and $56,000 if working with APD. A proposal unveiled in December requested $186,000 for six deputies patrolling both late night and an additional early evening time slot.
Aaron Sarver, public affairs director for BCSO, confirmed Jan. 18 that the $56,000 approved will allow the patrols to begin Jan. 26. Miller was unavailable for questions immediately after the vote.
According to BCSO’s proposal, each deputy will receive $75 an hour for the patrols beyond their typical duties, regardless of how much they typically make. Miller said the patrols would not take away from the Sheriff’s Office’s typical patrols and other duties.
The initiative was first presented at the commissioners’ Dec. 5 meeting, after downtown business owners made it clear to Miller that an increased law enforcement presence was needed downtown.
With the help of Donnie Parks, former Hendersonville police chief and part-time adviser to Miller, a four-phase proposal was drawn up to expand a co-responder model across the county using partner organizations to address issues related to the area’s homeless population.
Phase two of that proposal would assign BCSO deputies to work with community paramedics, an existing mental health clinical practitioner and a critical incident project manager, yet to be hired, to implement a co-responder model downtown.
Subsequent phases would expand the co-responder model and develop a long-term plan, including expanding partnerships with various organizations addressing homelessness, according to the proposal.
“It is also the Sheriff’s Office position that the time is now to forge such a partnership between all stakeholders,” the proposal states.
At the meeting, Miller drew a distinction between the initial downtown initiative and the co-responder model of policing. First, he envisions establishing a downtown presence. Then, he hopes to weave in the co-responder model, something that already exists in small numbers.
“We really feel that we would like co-responders not just for downtown but for the entire county,” he said.
Miller pledged to release an assessment of the patrols within 90 days from the start of the downtown initiative.
Elections director gets raise
Presented with new information illustrating the complexity of elections in Buncombe County, commissioners voted 6-0 to give Elections Director Corinne Duncan about a 5% raise.
Duncan, who previously made $109,222 annually, will now make $115,000, retroactive to July 1, as requested by the Buncombe County Board of Elections.
Commissioners were convinced by data presented by Buncombe Human Resources Director Sharon Burke that showed that next to comparable counties, Buncombe has more voting locations, a high number of voting districts and the highest voter turnout.
Unlike all other county department directors, whose salary is set by the county manager, the election director’s salary is recommended by the county Board of Elections and approved by the County Commission, per state statute. The director’s salary “shall be commensurate with the salary paid to directors in counties similarly situated and similar in population and number of registered voters,” according to state law.
At the Jan. 2 meeting, commissioners were unsure of the raise and requested the additional information from staff.
(This story was updated Jan. 18 to reflect a clarification on funding of the Sheriff’s Office’s proposal after Public Affairs Director Aaron Sarver responded to requests.)