The Asheville Police Department remains in the midst of a “staffing crisis” that is driving up response times and forcing the department to consolidate four patrol districts down to three, Capt. Mike Lamb told the Asheville Downtown Commission during its Nov. 13 meeting.
The Asheville Police Department has seen 54 officers resign since June, Lamb said. That’s a 37 percent decrease, and represents a combined loss of 265 years of service.
The Asheville Police Department currently has nine officers in field training, five set to graduate the department’s academy and five more signed up for the spring academy, Lamb said. The Police Department needs more diversity in new hires, he added.
Traditionally, the Police Department has had four patrol districts named Adam, Baker, Charlie and David, Lamb explained. The department added a new downtown district a couple of years ago after then Chief Tammy Hooper requested $1 million extra in department funding to combat a surge in city-center crime, a request that City Council granted.
But with the reduction in staffing, the department has combined districts back into the traditional four. He said that all foot patrols and bicycle patrols have been suspended so officers can remain in their cars to better respond to calls.
Recruiting new officers to Asheville is difficult right now, Lamb added. He referenced the ongoing debate in the city regarding funding for the department, which was a result of pressure from local residents demanding change in the wake of worldwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota.
Asheville City Council has stated that it is working on “reimagining” what public safety in the city looks like in the future. City Council cut $70,000 from the Police Department’s nearly $30 million annual budget earlier this year as a first small step in that direction.
Lamb said Fort Wayne, Indiana, has had billboards on Hendersonville and Tunnel roads seeking to recruit those recently resigned officers away from Asheville. Lamb said the starting pay for a new police officer in Fort Wayne is $57,000 a year. That’s $20,000 more than the starting pay of a new Asheville police officer.
Over the past month, the department had 1,079 calls for service in the city, Officer Sarah Baker told the commission. Violent crime is up 2 percent year-over-year, she said.