Eight years after the inception of the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed initiative, neighborhoods in and around the area are transitioning to a new chapter. With the U.S. Department of Justice-funded program drawing to a close at the end of June, the focus will be on building on the momentum and relationships created during the operation and moving from a site specific strategy to a regional one by joining forces with initiatives like the Changing Together crime prevention collaboration.
The Weed and Seed initiative addressed areas of elevated crime by creating and nurturing community driven programs, providing prevention and intervention options, restoring neighborhoods and dedicating supplemental law enforcement in high crime areas. The momentum came out of the communities themselves and was steered by a committee of residents from the neighborhoods most impacted. The result, says Mayor Terry Bellamy, is a healthier and safer neighborhood.
“You were committed to being part of the change that would grow your community in a positive way,” Bellamy said at a recent barbeque and party at Pisgah View Apartments. The party was held in honor of the neighborhood and the Weed and Seed partners, and was attended by Pisgah View neighbors, service providers, Asheville Police officers and others who have given their time and enthusiasm to make Weed and Seed happen.
“It’s impossible to overstate the amount of involvement, energy and ideas represented here,” said the City of Asheville’s Weed and Seed coordinator Rebecca Byrne. “The level of participation by non-profits and other organizations has been amazing. With those systems and programs in place, the community can keep moving forward.”
“This doesn’t happen easily,” said Fred Hudson, the Western District U.S. Attorney’s Office Law Enforcement Coordinator. “It requires collaboration. We’ve had some incredible success in this community.”
Since Weed and Seed began, the West Riverside Weed and Seed area has seen job training for 75 residents, baby sitting programs for teens looking for positive ways to earn money, the formation of a Girl Scout troop and the development of mentoring programs. The Burton Street Community Center got much needed improvements and an entire building of apartments was renovated in Pisgah View Apartments to create a stimulating and safe environment for afterschool programs and resident support services. The DOJ grants provided $148,000 to local non-profits meeting community defined goals.
“But the biggest thing I am proud of is that the community came together to reduce crime,” Bellamy said.
Focused law enforcement and community policing was crucial in the effort to get criminals off the street. Since 2008, some 109 individuals have been charged as habitual felons and several investigative operations have targeted large-scale drug dealing in the community. Asheville Police Department and Drug Enforcement Agency collaborations resulted in 30 arrests related to a major cocaine trafficking organization in the area. All told, the APD spent approximately 6,000 additional hours in the Weed and Seed area.
“We’ve seen residents become more engaged in community affairs and work together to ensure they have safer neighborhoods,” said APD Capt. Tim Splain. “That, and the relationships that have been forged with their police officers will help sustain a lower level of crime and better quality of life.”
Changing Together Director Missy Reed hopes those relationships will find a new home in the regional crime prevention initiative. Coordinating with community members, federal, state, city and county law enforcement agencies, the initiative gives the most violent habitual offenders notice that they have an opportunity to participate in programs aimed at moving them out of a criminal lifestyle. At the same time, they put offenders on notice that any further criminal actions will be prosecuted with the intent of pursuing the strongest conviction possible.
“The community has to be at the heart of everything we do,” Reed said.
“Like Weed and Seed, Changing Together is driven by the concerns and desires of the neighbors who live in this community.”