ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — In looking into the high rate of resignations from the city of Asheville Police Department, News 13 reached out to City Manager Debra Campbell requesting an on-camera interview. While the city manager would not sit down with us on camera, she did provide the following response to our questions. Here is that response:
"Public safety is paramount to our neighborhoods and communities' sense of wellbeing.
"And yes, we are deeply concerned and dismayed to see this number of our Asheville Police Officers depart from the city. But, unfortunately, departures are a trend occurring in many other communities across this country. We also acknowledge and recognize this is a difficult time for the department following protests and a call from some in our community to defund the police department. However, we are seizing this moment as an opportunity to work with the community on how we reimagine public safety in Asheville.
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"We understand these are difficult discussions, but we want our Asheville Police Officers to know they are appreciated and respected every day they show up for work to help our community. This isn’t an effort to defund the police but rather an effort to reimagine, reallocate responsibilities that should have never been theirs to start with and to look at policies and practices to ensure they support community problem solving and make people feel safe in their individual neighborhoods and throughout the city.
"On the city’s Virtual Engagement Hub you can read about all of the engagement the city did around the reimagining public safety and yes, that did include an in-person listening session with the Asheville Police Department, as you will see summarized on page 10 of the consultant’s report. The 70-minute “Reimagine Public Safety in Asheville” listening session with the Asheville Police Department (APD) included over 40 sworn and non-sworn APD employees, with primarily sworn officers in attendance. Their input was and continues to be vitally important to this discussion.
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"In terms of potential new protocols, we have focused a lot of our attention on the Eugene, Oregon, model called CAHOOTS or Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets. CAHOOTS is essentially a few decades old model that has great performance and budgetary information on successes and failures.
"We will be working with a consultant that will provide us with information on innovative crowd management techniques and protocol. That consultant is due to present to the Public Safety Committee at their next meeting in October.
"The City’s soft hiring freeze does not apply to community safety positions, i.e. police or fire. The positions will be filled. The money comes from salary savings from not having to pay salaries of vacant positions. APD Chief Zack will be handling recruitment and selection of future officers. Also our goal is to try to recruit a more diverse pool of officers.
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"The city of Asheville respects people's First Amendment rights to peacefully protest so long as they remain peaceful and do not threaten the safety and wellbeing of the community and property. But as Mayor Manheimer said Friday, violence only undermines the effort to create real, meaningful change and also co-opts the fight for racial justice. No one should be subject to threatening behavior, and that includes our Asheville Police Officers.
"I think we’ve made the first steps in healing our community through the listening sessions conducted in September in which we asked our residents what does reimagining public safety look like to them. We’ve shown we are listening by making the initial reallocation of duties and responsibilities of APD. And as I have said, this is the beginning of the process. We’re still listening and considering ways we can improve our service to this community.
"I have said consistently that our goal isn't to defund the Asheville Police Department but rather reimagine how we as a community address the complex issues of public safety. What we are doing, in response to a clear call from the community, is to look at how we can deliver services more effectively — and in a way that builds trust. We are also identifying ways to collaborate with other partners to address other systemic social and economic issues." --- City Manager Debra Campbell
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