Asheville Police Department implements changes to prevent excessive force

Asheville Police updated their policy for Field Training Officers (Courtesy: WLOS)

Asheville City Council commissioned an independent report to the study the use of force by former Officer Chris Hickman and to recommend improvements.

Hickman was a field training officer (FTO), which means he provided on-the-job training to a rookie officer. The report found Asheville Police Department (APD) has trouble finding qualified FTOs. To fix that, the report recommends the city should increase pay for FTOs and/or give them all take-home cars.

Those ideas have not received public discussion, but that doesn't mean they were ignored.

News 13 sat in on a Basic Law Enforcement Training class at A-B Tech. Some of the recruits will eventually become Asheville police officers.

But there's only so much you can learn in the classroom. When the recruits join APD, they will undergo 16 weeks of on-the-job learning, riding along with a FTO.

"You really have to have a solid field training program, field training officers, to put good quality new police officers on the street," APD Lt. Jackie Stepp said.

After body camera video surfaced of Hickman beating Johnny Rush during an August 2017 arrest, city council commissioned a report for about $90,000. 21st Century Policing studied the department's field training officer program and suggested changes.

Stepp says APD had already begun revising its FTO policy one month before the incident with Hickman.

"We were already working on that, but then when that case came up, we did have to go back and add things about inactive status, how you can be removed from FTO, you know, a number of things. That was a very big part of the final parts of the revision of that program," said Stepp, who was part of the team revising its policy.

APD has since finished making changes.

"That program had not been updated in quite some time and we recognized a need to put eyes on it and do some revisions," she said.

Stepp says they currently have about 24 field training officers in the patrol unit.

"We're pressed. I mean, we've got 20 trainees in the field right now," she said, saying they need more FTOs.

To attract and retain FTOs, 21st Century Policing recommends giving them more money and/or take home cars.

"Any incentives that you can give, especially FTOs, who are serving in basically a first-line supervision role, I think any incentives that you can give them to help motivate, help them want to do that is important," Stepp said.

News 13 tried to speak with city council members about the recommendation. One referred us to the mayor, who referred us to the interim city manager, who referred us to an assistant city manager.

"We're going to continue to evolve and look at the recommendations and make changes where we think they're necessary and where they'll be helpful," Interim Assistant City Manager Peggy Rowe said.

"Do you think additional pay, or take home cars would be helpful," News 13's Aaron Adelson asked Stepp during a Sept. 12 interview.

"Absolutely," she replied.

At a city council meeting on Sept. 25, Chief Tammy Hooper discussed the 21st Century Policing report, but pay and take home cars for FTOs did not come up. An APD spokesperson said that's because Hooper was updating city council on things that had been done, not what was in the works.

Previously, FTOs received one hour of overtime per day they worked with a trainee. APD said about half of its FTOs already had take home cars because of their role on other unites.

In early October, Rowe announced some news in an interview.

"There have been some changes," she said.

APD now says all FTOs have take home cars and increased the overtime to two hours.

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