Thin crowd weighs in on police chief selection

Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center empty
AIR TIME: The Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center auditorium stood mostly empty during Asheville's first public input session on the hiring of the city's next police chief. Photo by Daniel Walton

When the city of Asheville last held a public meeting in the auditorium of the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center — in March, shortly after the Citizen Times publication of body camera footage showing an Asheville police officer beating a black resident — hundreds of people packed the room to share their thoughts. Anger and disappointment toward the Asheville Police Department led then-Chief Tammy Hooper to express her willingness to resign, although she did not formally do so until Jan. 2.

But the same space stood mostly empty on Feb. 5 as the city hosted its first public listening session to develop the job description for Hooper’s permanent replacement. A mix of about 40 residents, city staff and members of the media left scores of seats unoccupied as consultants from the Police Executive Research Forum listened to the discussion.

“I’m shocked, and I’m disappointed,” said one commenter who identified himself as a Southside resident about the lack of attendance from his community. “If you’re not going to show up and voice your opinion, and then when something does happen, you get in a little group and then you voice your opinion, that’s not fair. That’s not right.”

Dawa Hitch, Asheville’s director of communication and public engagement, noted that the public meetings were just one avenue by which residents could have their voices heard. She said that the city was sending a street team into “high-crime neighborhoods” to gather feedback, as well as hosting an online survey and providing paper copies of that survey through community centers and neighborhood organizations.

Those who did attend the meeting spoke of their desire for a chief who could move the city forward on problems such as homelessness and the opioid epidemic, with a focus on community building and nonviolent conflict resolution. Chuck Wexler, executive director of PERF, responded that his team heard the city’s concerns about “issues that a progressive, enlightened police chief should be aware of.”

In response to a question about the use of a community panel to actually select the new chief, Wexler said that his team was focused on obtaining input at this early stage to inform the job description. Referencing PERF’s previous poaching of a New Orleans police superintendent to be Baltimore’s chief, he said a competitive police labor market might require the city to be discreet about its recruitment.

“We work for [City Manager Debra Campbell] to get the best candidates we can,” Wexler explained. “Much like you do in any major organization, we try to get people who are doing a great job to be willing to leave that job to do something better.”

Campbell said she hoped to identify a new police chief by late spring — earning a laugh from the audience when she added, “Whatever your definition of late spring is, go with it.” While filling the position is important, she said, patience is also critical for ensuring the right fit.

“This is going to be tough, to truly get someone to come to Asheville and reflect the values that we have in Asheville and will be able to present themselves in a way that advances trust and faith and confidence in the APD,” Campbell said. “That has to permeate not just through the chief, but throughout the organization.”

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and city government beat reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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2 thoughts on “Thin crowd weighs in on police chief selection

  1. Robin

    Campbell said, “This is going to be tough, to truly get someone to come to Asheville and reflect the values that we have in Asheville…” So, if they’re coming to Asheville, it’s going to be an outsider (way to be open-minded), but they’re expected to reflect the values that we have in Asheville (just bring those with you).

    Here’s a novel suggestion for Ms. Campbell and the Asheville City Council: How about for this very important posting, we forget about race and gender, and we just hire the absolutely best candidate we can. If they’re black, female, and Asian; all the better. It shouldn’t be, “who’s the best black Chief we can find” (Anderson), or who’s the best female chief (Hooper). A relative of mine had a front row seat for both of those hirings (Anderson and Hooper), and they told me that Anderson was sending farewells to his staff in Greenville before Asheville’s job posting ever closed. Later, the whisperings at APD, before the job was ever advertised when Anderson left, was that the next police chief would be a female, part of Cathy Ball’s “girl power” coup.

    Ms. Campbell may talk a good game, but I’m sensing from her actions, and now her words, that it will be more of the same: using her position as a platform to elevate a preordained political (and social) agenda. Time will tell, and we’re all watching to see how Ms. Campbell handles this first test of her newfound role as THE leader of Asheville. Since Hogan, Anderson, and Hooper were all busts, lets hope she gets it right. If not, she won’t last very long.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    She’s 62 and won’t be here long…this fits the mold of democrackkk protection by bumping her up in bigger salary for 2-3 years her retirement bumps on up…(not unlike double dipping ‘educators’ who milk a few extra retirement gigs as consultants which should not be allowed.)

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