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Cost of Growth: Asheville Police response times increase

Photo credit: WLOS Staff

Keeping citizens safe is one of the most important tasks for local leaders, but as the number of people needing police protection increases, that job becomes much more difficult.

Response times increase in Asheville

Whenever you're in an emergency and need help, you expect police to be there right away. However, if your call is one of many in a growing city, the time it takes for officers to respond could grow as well.

News 13 sat down with Asheville's Police Chief, Tammy Hooper, to see how the department is handling the population surge in the city. "I think in general more people, more crime always," said Chief Hooper.

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Chief Hooper says not only has the number of violent crimes gone up recently, but response times have gone up as well.

APD says in 2010, it took police an average of 4.9 minutes to get to a call. In 2017, the average response time for all calls jumped to 7.7 minutes. "For low priority calls, people can wait a good long time before they get a police response and that's not where we want to be," said Chief Hooper.

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She says the answer is more manpower on the street, which is why 15 additional officers and a 24/7 downtown unit was approved for APD last year. "It's a constant increase in demand and we have to figure out how to properly staff and schedule and allocate resources to respond to that demand," said Chief Hooper.

News 13 asked Chief Hooper is she feels like the department has what it needs to protect the city's citizens and visitors. "It's a stretch at times right? Because it does get very busy," she said.

We also sat down with Asheville's Mayor Esther Manheimer, who says public safety is a top priority. "Community safety is one of those things you sort of take for granted until you have a problem, until someone experiences their own problem," said Manheimer.

She understands that keeping the city safe means keeping ten million tourists each year safe as well. "We are seeing statistically that a lot of the calls for service are from people who aren't originally from Buncombe County so we know they are visitors so there is a price tag that comes with being very popular," said Manheimer.

Smaller cities also impacted

Just north of Asheville, the City of Woodfin is dealing with the same concern.

Police Chief Mike Dykes says he's worried about having enough officers to respond to the growing number of traffic and crime calls. "Do we have enough? We are definitely not at a level we would like to be. But we are doing our best to keep the folks safe and providing every bit of effort that we possibly can," said Chief Dykes.

Chief Dykes has watched Woodfin's population more than double, but the number of patrol officers has not. He says in 2000, the department had 10 full time officers. Right now, there are 11, even though they have funding for 15. "I think our biggest challenge again right now is to have the adequate staffing to respond to all of our calls for service," said Chief Dykes.

He says they are working to hire more people and get them trained and out on the street.

The good news is the average response time in Woodfin has not increased, but it's something Chief Dykes is watching closely. "I have no doubt as calls continue to increase and if staffing levels don't change with that, we will have longer response times because it's going to be the wait time until we can free someone up to go to that call," said Chief Dykes.

In the last 10 years, the budget for Asheville Police has grown 56 percent. Right now, APD says they have 196 officers with dozens more in training. Chief Hooper says they're also working to get new officers hired to fill the 15 added positions.

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