Asheville police chief wants to nearly double the number of officers downtown

Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper said preliminary crime statistics from 2016 show the downtown area contains the most serious crimes -- more than the other top four areas combined. She wants to increase police presence downtown. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Preliminary crime statistics from 2016 show the downtown area of Asheville contains the most serious crimes -- more than the other top four areas combined.

Chief Tammy Hooper presented the statistics at the last Asheville City Council meeting.

She said data show Part 1 crimes -- which she defined as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft -- are an issue in the downtown area.

Part of her solution was a request to nearly double the downtown unit from 15 officers (plus two sergeants) to 30.

"We in the police department are staffed for a population of 87,000 people," Hooper said. "But on any given day, we can have up to 160,000 people we have to police every single day."

The expansion would cost more than $1 million in the first year to recruit and equip the new officers, with an ongoing cost of $1 million a year. Hooper made the same request last year, but it was not approved.

Crime is greater in the downtown area than anywhere else, but distilling Part 1 crimes to the most violent and serious shows crime in some of the city's public housing complexes is still a problem.

"In Deaverview, the gun calls more than doubled compared to 2015," Hooper said. "And if we combine Hillcrest and Pisgah View, our gun-related calls for service have tripled since 2014."

Hooper said foot patrols have made a difference in crime at Deaverview, one of the city's public housing complexes. A new policy requires officers to spend at least one hour walking throughout the area.

"Since that time, the second half of 2016 compared to first half, violent crime in Deaverview reduced by 33 percent. So, we need to expand on that and build on that."

Some downtown residents and employees in businesses there said more police presence would be a good thing.

"We have a great relationship with police here," said Melanie McNair, assistant manager of Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe. "They've always been very responsive. But I don't know how thinly they're spread."

But some homeless folks who hang around Pritchard Park said they think there are already too many police downtown.

"I come from New York and Ohio, so I don't think the crime is that great down here," said Kenyon "KC" Clements, who has been homeless since 2011. "I think that instead of focusing on homeless people, they need to focus on Deaverview, Hillcrest and all the projects."

Hooper also presented some traffic statistics at the meeting and asked for two more traffic officers.

She said the official statistics for 2016 will be available in March.

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