Pack Square, Asheville, 2018.

Teams of Asheville firefighters on bicycles could soon begin patrolling downtown Asheville streets under a proposed pilot program aimed at addressing ongoing concerns about public safety.

The Community EMT Pilot Proposal aims to roll several functions into one team: downtown ambassador, public safety official, medical responder and law enforcement liaison. These teams, roving downtown and South Slope streets during the busy summer/fall months, could respond quickly to street-level medical emergencies, such as opioid overdoses, as they are already trained EMTs. They could help connect homeless people with services. As downtown ambassadors, they might help a lost tourist find his way, or interact with local business owners.

The plan is to measure the effectiveness of the pilot program and see if something city officials want to continue.

Over the past couple of years, Asheville City Council has moved to increase Asheville Police Department funding, in part due to Police Chief Tammy Hooper’s concerns that downtown crime was on the rise. The department is using the funding to hire more officers to patrol downtown streets.

Meantime, complaints from some downtown residents and business owners continue. In May,

Michael Napelitano, the owner of Manicomio Pizza on Biltmore Avenue, urged Asheville City Council to put more police officers on the street to deal with loiterers he said were using drugs and defecating on the sidewalk outside of his business.

Mayor Esther Manheimer responded at the time by noting that city officials were looking at a Fort Collins, Colo., model called Outreach Fort Collins. The nonprofit program helps connect people with services they might need.

Also in May, Asheville hotelier John McKibbon, a member of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, suggested during a meeting that the TDA consider putting more resources into helping deal with the downtown safety issue. McKibbon owns several Asheville hotels, including the Aloft hotel on Biltmore Avenue and the new Arras under construction on Pack Square.

The “transient and pan handling issues do not seem to be getting addressed in the downtown area,” McKibbon said. “It’s a problem and getting worse.” McKibbon noted that in some cities, tourism organizations hire people to help tourists.

The Asheville Downtown Commission will consider the pilot project at its Friday meeting.

3 Comments

  1. I’m glad to see they will be patrolling on bicycle. There are already too many cars

  2. What does the Nonprofit program help, Jason?!? I’m dying to know!

  3. Are they also getting a pay increase?

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