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New vice mayor gives update on city plan to ‘staff up’ the APD: Asheville saddled ‘with less-than-adequate public safety services,’ Kilgore opines x
Wednesday, 18 January 2023 22:54

From Staff Reports

Asheville’s new vice mayor, Sandra Kilgore, reviewed what she termed “the steps that City Council is going through that, hopefully, will give us the ability to get our police department up and running — and where it needs to be” — during a Jan. 6 address to the Council of Independent Owners at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

Kilgore’s address was the first of two on “The State of the Asheville Police Department” at the meeting, with APD Chief David Zack immediately following the vice mayor with an address on the APD’s future from a police perspective. (A story on Zack’s address appears on Page B8.) 

Kilgore began her talk by noting, “Today, we will be speaking on a subject of a lot of concern to a lot of people. Today we’ll be talking about a ‘hot’ topic of interest around the nation. When it comes to public safety… it affects everyone.”

For first-responders, including the APD, she said, “Their primary goal is to protect the public and guard their well-being. However, to provide these ongoing services, we must have the manpower to sustain it” — an effort that has been hampered with “many officers choosing to retire... and recruiting going slowly....”

Kilgore added, “We find ourselves today with less-than-adequate public safety services in most communities.

“I recently had the honor of swearing in 11 new young police cadets. I can’t tell you what an honor that was. … That’s what we’re going to need to grow our police department,” vice mayor said. “I’m now going through the steps that council is going through that hopefully will give us the ability to do what we need to do to get our police department ‘up and running,’ as it needs to be.”

She then reviewed highlights of the city’s “Reimagining Public Safety” project, including the following:

• “Reimagining Public Safety” has been a priority for City Council for the past two fiscal years.

• Animal control and the noise ordinance enforcement were transferred from the APD to Development Services Department. (Kilgore noted that DSD closed 71 percent of the total noise complaints, while APD closed 29 percent of total noise complaints.)

• There was a 24 percent decrease in non-emergency line noise complaints between FY 2020-21 and FY 2021-22.

• City-county 911 consolidation

• Eliminated call transferring and provided more consistent service delivery

• Greater opportunities for interagency response and backup and data sharing

• Greater opportunities for alternate response methods through consolidated training and procedures

• Increased training opportunities for APD

• Creation of the Office of Data and Performance

At that point, Kilgore said, “Reimagining Public Safety” is a long-term commitment to redefine how and who responds to public safety issues, while identifying root causes behind concerns.

Further, she asserted, “Until people become comfortable in working with police and until then, we will continue to have issues. In order to do that, we’ve got to deal with relationships and that is what this program is all about.”

She then reviewed recruitment and retention efforts as follows:

• Contracted with EPIC Recruiiting to create recruiting media, create a recruitment website and strategize and market the City of Asheville and the department to recruit exceptional police applicants.

• Approved a new wellness coordinator position to increase awareness of effective mental health and wellness strategies, peer support, family resources, suicide prevention and other promising practices for wellness programs by coordinating regular training/roll calls with responder services and other available city resources.

As for recruitment and retention efforts, among the highlights she cited were that, beginning July 1, 2021, City Council increased police wages as follows:

• Starting salary for trainee, $41,511 (previously $35,713), increase of 16 percent

• Staring salary for newly sworn-in officers, $44,738

As for homelessness strategies, Kilgore noted the following city efforts:

AFD is collaborating with Buncombe County on a Community Response team that will address overlapping community needs to the unsheltered, including those with behavioral health and substance abuse problems

• APD launched a comprehensive focus on downtown, as well as 'hot spots,” such as underpasses and encampment areas, for a coordinated interdepartmental response

She also pointed out that 132 units at the former Ramada Inn at RiverRidge “should be coming on board later this spring.”

She concluded her address by saying, “Last year in a survey, Asheville had 637 unhoused people in the community — of which 232 were without shelter.”

There was no question-and-answer session after Kilgore’s address.



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