ASHEVILLE — A predominantly African-American crowd convened Wednesday night at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center to brainstorm new directions for the Police Department.

The meeting was sponsored by the city of Asheville and conducted by consultants hired by city management to form a new strategic plan for the APD.

Police Chief William Anderson, whose relatively short time in office has been beset by controversy over the handling of his son’s high-profile car accident in March and reports of flagging morale among officers, opened the meeting with a few remarks.

“This process … is something that we’re very excited about in APD,” Anderson said. “This is the community participation part of building a three-year strategic plan.”

Anderson asked for a direct dialogue on how his department is run.

“What we’re going to be looking for tonight is the things that APD does well and the things that APD can improve upon,” he said. “We want your candor, we want your information, we want your input, because this is what’s going to help us guide our Police Department.”

Two former N.C. police chiefs heading review

Over the summer, city administrators hired a pair of consultants, former Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan and former Wilson Police Chief Willie Williams, to prepare the strategic plan.

Dolan, who directed most of the Wednesday meeting, said he and Williams had already interviewed most of the APD’s 200-some officers during their review. Dolan said the meeting was the only community forum that would be held by the consultants.

Later in the meeting, however, Anderson said he might put together another community meeting before the strategic planning process is completed.

After the meeting, Dolan said he and Williams would present their plan to City Council in February.

Whether or not there are any more public meetings on the plan, the city will solicit additional ideas with an online survey, said Dawa Hitch, Asheville’s public information officer.

Sounding off on APD’s attributes and shortcomings

Much of the meeting, which lasted about two hours, was dedicated to breaking the crowd into four focus groups and soliciting ideas from them about what the APD does right and what it does wrong.

The groups generated a cacophony of voices in the meeting room. But the main ideas of each one were distilled by community volunteers and presented to the crowd at large in a closing session led by Dolan.

On the positive side, the focus groups praised the APD for hiring its first black police chief, Anderson; for improved response times and visibility in crime-ridden communities; and for opening up some lines of communication with the public.

On the negative side, the groups lamented a lack of diversity in the hiring and retention of APD officers, and the insufficiency of resources devoted to combating street-level drug markets. Some groups recommended that the department focus on striving for equal enforcement of the law, providing more community resource officers and increasing accountability.

John Hayes, president of the Asheville NAACP branch, participated in the meeting and said afterward it was a useful exercise.

“This is the right thing to have,” he told Carolina Public Press. “Because there’s no sense in having a meeting where people come in and just vent all their frustrations. This was an opportunity to come in and be part of the conversation and make suggestions, so you are a part of the solution, in every step.”

Videos from the meeting, produced by Davyne Dial, can be viewed below. 

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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