My Budget Vote
Last night, City Council passed our budget which will take effect July 1 and does not include a tax increase. I supported it and the following are the remarks that I made.
I voted in favor of the budget because, although it doesn’t include everything that I wanted and includes some things that I think we can do without, it takes steps to address the serious issues that Asheville as a whole is facing. I would have liked to see our City employees receive a 3% increase rather than a 2.5% increase. Additionally, I’m sorry that we’re not able to support the Asheville Museum of Science in this year’s budget, but hope that we can work with them for the next budget cycle just as we’ve done with the Art Museum. But I don’t expect nor am I going to insist that everything needs to be the way I want it to be for me to vote for the budget.
That brings me to the request for funding additional police officers which I support for several reasons.
First, and I mean this with all respect to the Chief and the police officers, while I would prefer that we spend this money elsewhere or not spend it at all, the fact is we need more police officers in Asheville to deal with the level of service calls APD receives. Right now, our officers are being pulled from other locations in the City to respond to calls Downtown. The purpose of hiring additional officers is so that APD can create a Downtown district that will not only serve Downtown better, but will also allow police officers to better serve other parts of the City.
Second, we are also seeing a continued, significant increase in violent crime – especially gun violence - in certain parts of the City. From January to March of 2018, the number of violent Part 1 crimes (this is homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) are up 33% over the same time period in 2017 on top of a 28% increase from 2015 to 2017.
You may also remember a statistic cited that between 2016 and 2017, the number of traffic stops of African Americans increased by 595 or 53% while for whites it only went up by 15 or 0.3%. On its face, that’s a pretty alarming statistic so I asked the question why. It turns out from that four areas of the city which were experiencing significant gun violence during that time represented 72.4% of that increase.
For example in Shiloh, residents were complaining about gun violence and drug activity on Brooklyn Road in 2017 so APD directed resources there and saw an increase in traffic stops. The racial demographics of that district was 34% black and 66% white. The traffic stop demographics over that period in that district were 35% black and 65% white. We see similar racial and traffic stop demographic percentages in the other areas where the traffic stops occurred. In response to complaints and data, APD directed significant resources to these locations and has been able to reduce the gun activity there. This analysis by APD was provided to all of Council and I hope we read it and I hope that the public sees it as well.
Finally, increasing the number of officers will allow APD the ability to implement community policing which was one of the six pillars of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report. The 21st Century Policing report was written in 2015 by a task force of academics, community leaders, police leaders, and police employee representatives. That report has been referenced by Ian Mance in his presentations and APD has already implemented many of its recommendations.
The community policing philosophy cites the need to use partnerships with the community to address the conditions that cause public safety issues. The report talks about police officers actively building positive relationships with members of the community and notes that it requires participation in community organizations, local meetings and public service activities. Anyone who has tried to build community knows that it takes time. Well, how do we expect our officers to be able to do that when they’re spending all their time on service calls? Additionally, Pillar 6 of the report talks about Officer Wellness & Safety. If our officers are consistently responding to calls, that is going to lead to burnout and turnover.
My goal during my time on Council is to ensure that all Asheville residents go to sleep each night feeling safe, fed, healthy and valued. Approving this budget will not only make our city safer, but it will also go a long way to implementing the recommendations of the 21st Century Policing report and I’m proud to support it.