Asheville City Council has made several policy and personnel changes following the Asheville Citizen-Times’ February publication of police body cam video showing an officer beating a man in August 2017.
Last week, Asheville City Council voted to fire City Manager Gary Jackson. And in recent weeks, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams has charged the now former Asheville police officer with one felony and two misdemeanor charges in connection with the incident and dropped several cases initiated by the former officer.
Here’s a look at Asheville City Council actions in the wake of the Police Department controversy:
-Asheville City Council will pursue its own third-party audit of the Police Department. She said the U.S. Department of Justice would convene a grand jury in April to consider any charges in the incident following an FBI investigation into possible civil rights violations. Manheimer said the city would need its own audit to determine what, if any, action to take. City Council voted unanimously to initiate that audit, which is estimated to cost about $400,000 in taxpayer dollars.
-All excessive use of force complaints lodged against an Asheville Police Department officer will now automatically trigger a criminal investigation, which had not been the case.
-Asheville City Council will now be notified by the Asheville Police Department of all excessive use of force complaints.
-The Asheville police chief will now report directly to the Asheville city manager. Prior to the change, the police chief reported to an assistant city manager.
-An ordinance has been drafted to create a Human Rights Commission of Asheville. That commission may be charged with reviewing excessive use of force complaints filed against the Asheville Police Department.
-A new department, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, is being created within Asheville city government. The head of that department will report to the city manager, and will have a staff of a couple of employees. Somebody in this office may be tasked with reviewing police body cam video.
-Asheville City Council is considering funding a legal aid position to help people navigate the system if they have a complaint against a police officer. City Council members say they hope Buncombe County commissioners will help in funding the position, which could be established through an existing entity such as Pisgah Legal Services.
-Asheville City Council plans to push an aggressive plan to hire more minority police officers.
-Asheville City Council wants to make it easier for the public to bring complaints against a police officer, through an unbiased hotline and a prominent presence on the Asheville Police Department website.
-Asheville City Council wants to review civil service rules that govern how city employees, including police officers, are disciplined and terminated. Any change to these rules would require legislation at the state level. One facet of a change in personnel laws City Council would like to see is some ability to make the public aware if disciplinary action is taken against an officer. With personnel laws as they are now, its against the law to make public that kind of personnel action.
-Asheville City Council plans to lobby for the passage of a state law that allows the creation of a police advisory commission with power to hear complaints against police and review police body cam video.
-Meantime, a group of citizen activists is pushing for the regular release of data and policies related to public safety. The Code for Asheville group wants Asheville to join other cities that it says are already using data to bring change. The group wants the city to make some of the following data available to the public on a regular basis: use-of-force incidents by our police department, emergency (911) call data, crime report data, arrest and citation data, citizen complaints, traffic stop reports and demographic information on APD officers.