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Buncombe patrol initiative questioned
Sunday, 04 February 2024 17:39
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The decision by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to pay $56,000 for the county Sheriff’s Office to launch another patrol initiative in downtown Asheville raises a number of questions, Rondell Lance, local president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Daily Planet in a Jan. 28 telephone interview.

As for the Asheville interim police chief’s stance on receiving the sheriff’s help, “(Mike) Lamb is going to work with anyone who can help further the community’s safety issues, said Lance, whose local FOP lodge represents about 250 area law enforcement employees. 

“But my understanding is that this is not something the city asked for. It’s something where the sheriff asked for it and the county commissioners” supported it... Of course, the interim chief is going to say ‘OK.’ You can’t run them out. You’ve got to work with them.

“There are questions of how this is going to work... I think the citizens should be clear — that this is not something that the Asheville Police Department asked for. It’s something that the sheriff wanted to do.”

What’s more, in his view, Lance, said, “They (the APD) had been doing a great job downtown....

“As you’ll recall, the county commissioners kind of spoke badly about the city” after the APD recently made a number of highly publicized arrests downtown. 

“That’s why the county commissioners were kind of upset — because maybe it hurt their chances of getting a (MacArthur) grant for their detention facility... This (patrolling downtown with the APD) isn’t about real community safety, it's about grants.

“And I’m sure the people in the rural areas are wondering, ‘What about us?’ They have significant fentanyl overdose problems” in rural areas resulting in public safety concerns that are not being addressed, Lance opined.

“I don’t know what the (exact) truth is (with the sheriff’s patrols in downtown Asheville), but I think it’s something that needs to be discussed... And the sheriff is the one who claimed downtown merchants need help” against the criminal element downtown.

As for the APD, Lance said he thinks its position — beyond being diplomatic — is: “‘We don’t need you. We don’t need your help.’

“It's not like Mike Lamb asked, ‘Hey, Quentin, can you help us (the APD) with (policing) downtown?’”

“For a week or two — or more, they (the APD) had several arrests with habitual criminals with open warrants… and you’ve got to arrest them if they had warrants.” 

As for the McArthur grant, Lance said, “There are 10 localities in the nation that get it,” including Buncombe County. The grant is “a jail reduction act, kind of... If you keep your jail — maybe — 15 percent empty,” Buncombe receives the grant. “Over the last few years, the county has made over a million (dollars) from that grant.

“So they (the county) let some people go, so that they can get the grant. So that’s why they have so many people running around” free,who should be incarcerated, Lance said. “And that decision is made by the magistrate's office, DA (district attorney) and the judges. So they’re all ‘in that game’ of making money by not putting people in jail.”

Lance added, “I heard he (Miller) said he had heard there were ‘issues and problems’ with businesses in downtown Asheville with crime, so he decided, ‘Well, we’re going to come downtown and help.’”

After a pause, he asserted, “It makes you wonder if this is just a political ploy by the sheriff and the county commissioners... Maybe it was: ‘Let us go downtown where the (APD) are making all these areests — and we won’t arrest them (the lawbreakers). We’ll just write tickets, so we don't fill up the jail” — and miss out on getting the grant.

“That’s why we need someone to question what’s going on, on the commission,” Lance said in concluding the interview, adding, “It’d be interesting to know if (Asheville) City Council went to them” (the Buncombe commissioners), asking for help from the county Sheriff’s Office to beef up law enforcement presence in downtown Asheville. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lance is vying with the Rev. Paul Benjamin for the Republican nomination for the District 1 seat on the county Board of Commissioners.



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