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Asheville police chief says abuse, threats cause spike in resignations after protests

(The Center Square) – Officers are leaving the Asheville Police Department (APD) in record numbers because of threats and abuse from the public, Asheville Police Chief David Zack said.

While the number of officers who have left the department in the months after protests over police brutality has doubled since the same time frame last year, the Asheville City Council also has cut police funding by 3%.

From June 1 to Oct. 21, 38 officers have resigned from the APD, according to records obtained by The Center Square through an open records request. During the same time last year, 17 officers resigned and one retired. From Jan. 1 through June 1, four officers left the APD.

Zack said the officers who have quit since June had 203 years of experience. More than half of those who resigned have left law enforcement, he said. Others have sought employment with other agencies. "They've had enough and have left the profession entirely," Zack said. "Those who've transferred are hoping to find communities where they feel they will be better appreciated, respected and, in some cases, compensated."

Protests erupted in downtown Asheville in late May after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. The demonstrations turned violent at times, with many protestors targeting the police. Zack said people threw rocks, bottles and explosives at police officers.

After a Kentucky grand jury's decision Sept. 24 to not directly charge three Louisville police officers for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, protesters left a coffin covered in dirt and animal manure in front of the APD. Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, was killed while Louisville Metro Police officers executed a no-knock warrant at her home.

Zack said the coffin incident was a breaking point for some of the officers who left. "Police officers are already exposed to the darkest aspects of our world," he said. "Their careers exact a physical and mental toll over time. We all have a breaking point."

Protesters in Asheville took to the streets to demand police reform. Many of them have called for the police department to be defunded. Some held signs that said, "Divest" and "Reinvest."

The Asheville City Council voted, 5-2, last month to cut $770,000 from the police department, reducing its budget for fiscal year 2021 to $29.3 million. The current fiscal year budget is $2 million less than what the APD spent in fiscal year 2018, according to budget records. Officials said the city's police spending has increased over the past five years. The council reallocated the $770,000 for animal control and noise ordinance enforcement, public safety data analysis, broadband for public housing, homeless outreach, communications and public engagement.

According to a study released Tuesday by Money Geek, North Carolina spends 5.6% of its budget, or $5.4 billion, on law enforcement. It ranks No. 9 compared with other states in police and corrections spending. Researchers said per capita spending in North Carolina is about $520.

Some residents criticized the APD cuts. Others said the money should have been allocated to address racial equality and equity. GOP state lawmakers condemned the local government for the decision. Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Buncombe, said he plans to propose legislation to cut funding to cities that reduce police spending. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, called on Asheville officials to reverse the decision. "The Republican-led General Assembly will consider all options when we return to keep North Carolinians safe in cities like Asheville that are advertising safe harbor to criminals by intentionally reducing funds for law enforcement," Moore said.