APD Community Resource Officers build community bridges

Asheville Police Department Officer Jackie Stepp’s department-issued cell phone sometimes rings up to four times a day with questions or observations from Asheville residents or business owners. That’s not so surprising since she gives out the number at community meetings and to anyone who asks. As Community Resource Officers, Stepp and her partner, Officer Evan Coward, attend multiple community meetings in the Central/South district they serve, making connections and listening to concerns, as well as updating neighborhoods about law enforcement efforts.

Such interaction is at the core of the APD’s Community Resource Officer units, who operate in three City of Asheville districts and the department’s Drug Suppression Unit.

“People feel good about being able to pick up the phone and call, and knowing we’ll get back to them,” Stepp says. CROs serve as a link between the public, the department and the city as a whole, working closely with City of Asheville Neighborhood Coordinator Marsha Stickford. “We try to attend every single meeting, so the community sees us in that capacity,” Stepp says.

That means making themselves available to answer questions, and if they don’t have the answer, getting the person in touch with City of Asheville personnel who can provide it.

“Their number one goal is to problem solve,” says APD Capt. Daryl Fisher. “They communicate with people on a daily basis. They really have to be able to do it all.”

APD Officers who participate in the CRO program sign up for the job, and Fisher says the role is often a developmental step, as it involves investigative and outreach roles that give them a more in-depth knowledge of the community.

“We want to help communities resolve ongoing issues,” says CRO Josh Simpson, who serves the West District with his partner Officer Chad McCall. “We want to try to close out the problem.”

That kind of community involvement also gives CROs information useful in enforcing or remedying problems that arise, and the units have been interactive in Asheville’s two Weed and Seed areas as well as assisting communities like the West End/Clingman Avenue Neighborhood in setting up community watch programs. They will factor heavily in the management of the reopened pedestrian bridge adjacent to Hillcrest Apartments, the topic of an upcoming Jan. 8 community meeting.

CRO units played leading roles in the recent arrests associated with business break-ins on Merrimon Avenue, graffiti vandalism in the River Arts District and vehicle break-ins in West Asheville. Many times, say both Stepp and Simpson, those successes were the result of interaction with observant community members willing to help by supplying critical information.

“We can’t see everything, but the community does,” Stepp says.

“When the community is your eyes and ears, it enables you to get a good timeline of when and where things are happening,” Simpson adds.

Please contact APD’s Community Engagement Division at this address: apdcommunityengagement@ashevillenc.gov