Last week, city leaders in a North Carolina tourist village that has seen violent crimes rise in the past few years announced a sixty-day initiative to improve conditions in their downtown district due to a staffing crisis.
According to a city news release, the City of Asheville is taking “targeted measures” to combat the increasing number of incidents that affect public safety. The initiative will begin on May 1.
The city stated that “complex circumstances are contributing to Asheville’s current downtown safety problems and will require a community response to address these complex issues.” “Multiple departments of the City are coordinating the response by the City government. We also need the participation of community leaders and partners in order to address all factors that contribute to the increase in crime.”
Asheville is a city of 90,000 residents in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Violent crime has risen in Asheville in recent years. APD statistics show that aggravated assaults increased by 21.8% and armed thefts by 20% between 2021 and 2022.
In the new initiative, there will be an increased police presence downtown, including vehicle, bicycle, and foot patrols, and improved security in parks. Authorities will also focus on keeping downtown clean and removing needles, litter, and other biological waste.
The city will monitor more closely areas of downtown known for vagrancy and drug abuse, including parking garage stairwells, Pritchard Park, and other crime-prone locations. The authorities will also be closely monitoring the enforcement of laws against graffiti and taking measures to remove it as quickly as possible.
The city will work with Duke Energy in order to replace out-of-service streetlights. It will also partner up with nonprofit and private organizations to identify problem areas and carry out maintenance.
The Asheville Fire Department will also launch a Community Responder Pilot Program, which is aimed at “supporting individuals in crisis” and providing a visible City presence downtown. According to the city, the program will inform a longer-term Community Responder Initiative beyond the 60-day initiative.
Debra Campbell, City Manager said: “City staff will track and test actions that we hope will lead to a safer downtown during this 60-day time period.” The efforts we make will be tracked on the newly created Downtown Safety Initiative Page and updated regularly. After 60 days, the staff will evaluate whether our actions have an impact on downtown security and determine the next steps for a safer city and downtown.
WLOS reports that the announcement follows the “Downtown Problem Solving Initiative” of the city, where law enforcement from the Buncombe Sheriff’s office assists city police in patrolling the downtown.
According to the outlet, Asheville Police Chief David Zack stated last week that his department’s approach is data-driven. “We’re primarily driven by what we’ve observed with increasing violent crime downtown, but also with rising property crime,” Zack said. Last fall, the chief stated that his department was struggling to maintain visibility since more than 100 police officers had left their posts since May 2020.
According to the police, a man suffered a neck laceration at a downtown bus stop last week after an argument with another man about a cigarette. This incident occurred a week following multiple armed robberies that took place in the downtown district, known for its eclectic restaurants and historic architecture.