As the Asheville Police Department works to fill dozens of vacancies among its patrol officers, Chief David Zack is casting a wide net. At a Jan. 6 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNC Asheville, he said the department’s recruiting efforts had gotten a substantial response from Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn. — and even garnered a call from a potential hire in Hungary.
Such far-flung outreach is needed, Zack told the Asheville-based trade group, due to the APD’s ongoing workforce challenges. He said the force deploys about 146 officers on a daily basis, down roughly 40% from its authorized strength of 238. And because new recruits require 14 months of onboarding and training before they can patrol the streets alone, that shortage isn’t disappearing anytime soon.
Zack focused on the APD’s partnership with Arizona-based Epic Recruiting, with which the city signed a $225,000 contract in December. He said a new recruiting website went online Sept. 2, with a digital ad campaign on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube going live Sept. 19.
“Recruitment is far different than it was when I got on the job. Back when I started 36 years ago, we advertised SWAT teams and adrenaline and car chases,” Zack said. “What we’re seeing, especially with younger people, is they want to be more attracted to the area. … You’ll see that we’re advertising the scenery, the waterfalls, the outdoor activity and what more the city has to offer beyond just policing the community.”
Speaking with Xpress after the meeting, Zack said he had received Epic’s initial report on Jan. 4 and it was too early to say how many new recruits had resulted from the campaign. But he emphasized that, because the department no longer has its own dedicated recruitment staff, the consultant’s work was critical.
Zack noted that Asheville’s attrition rate for police had been higher than average even before he became chief in February 2020. Since 2005, he said, the city has hired 507 officers while losing 367; he added that the APD was currently among the country’s top three police forces for attrition per capita.
Sandra Kilgore, who was recently sworn in as Asheville’s vice mayor, also spoke to CIBO regarding City Council’s work to boost public safety. She pointed to the APD pay increases Council authorized in 2021, as well as more recent incentives for current and prospective employees.
Officers with advanced law enforcement certification, for example, now receive an ongoing 5% salary supplement, up from a 5% lump sum paid at recruitment. Current APD members can get a $1,000 referral bonus for each new hire they recommend; those incoming officers receive a $3,500 hiring bonus if they’re fresh trainees and $5,000 if they come from another police department.
Kilgore said the city should work to support the police culturally as well. “On Dec. 16, I had the honor of swearing in 11 police cadets. And I can’t tell you what that meant to me, to watch these young cadets, eager with their families to start on this new career,” she recalled. “We need to do everything we can to make sure that they feel that they are welcomed to this family and that we’re here for them.”
While the city works to put more boots on the ground, Kilgore added, it will move to put more eyes in the sky. She said Asheville is preparing to sign an interlocal agreement with Buncombe County for “an integrated network of security cameras to deter criminal activity and to enhance response in key locations in downtown.”
In response to Xpress questions after the meeting, City Manager Debra Campbell said the city would pay for cameras located on its own property but could not immediately provide an estimate of the system’s overall cost. She expected Council to vote on the matter in late January or early February. (As of press time, no mention of the camera system was listed on Council’s draft eight-week agenda.)