Archives – December, 2010
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.
Community Resource Officer Jackie Stepp outside the APD's Haywood Street resource center.
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.
Officer Josh Simpson is one of two Community Resource Officers serving the city's West District.
“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.
Contact info for the APD’s Community Resource Officers can be found below:
Josh Simpson & Chad McCall
Brien Griffin & Jeremy Woody
Jackie Stepp & Evan Coward
Drug Suppression Unit/Public Housing
December 30, 2010
It has never been easier to take a tour of downtown Asheville’s Urban Trail, thanks to a free downloadable audio guide made available through the City of Asheville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.
The tour, funded with a grant from the Janirve Foundation, is designed for mp3 players, and walks participants through the 1.7-mile, 2-hour trail that highlights Asheville’s history, architecture, public art and local personalities.
One of many sculptures along downtown Asheville's Urban Trail.
Though the Urban Trail has seen guided tours in the past, it was intended to be a self-guided, so people walking the trail can stop in shops and restaurants or other attractions and resume the tour on their own, a feature enhanced by the audio tour.
Recording and mixing the mp3 took about 18 months and utilized the expertise of tour guides and local historians familiar with the stories behind the Urban Trail. Those guides served as narrators of the tour, recording as they stood at each of the 30 stations along the trail.
Getting the input of those guides, said Diane Ruggiero, City of Asheville Superintendent of Cultural Arts, was important because they are the people who best know what most people are interested in hearing about.
“These are great tour guides that have been with the Urban Trail for years,” Ruggiero said. “They really stayed with the whole recording process.”
Dixie Guthrie, who has served as an Urban Trail tour guide since the late 1990’s, was one of several guides who lent their voices and knowledge for the audio tour.
“I just love the Urban Trail,” Guthrie said. “It tells so much history about Asheville and the early days of downtown.”
The recording, Guthrie said, is a faithful reproduction of the guided tours she led.
“It’s nicely done,” Guthrie says, pointing out that local musicians supplied a soundtrack for the recording. “It gives you more than if you use just the brochure.”
“We think it is pretty cool. We want to make this information available to as many people as possible,” Ruggiero said.
To further enhance the experience of the Urban Trail, The Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department is working on a version of the audio tour geared towards children, as well as a tour that can be accessed by cell phone. An online slideshow tour with audio is also in the works so people not in Asheville can see the rich history its downtown holds.
Click here to download the audio tour, as well as both the Urban Trail map and brochure.
December 21, 2010
On December 15, the Asheville Civic Center became a high-elevation training ground, as the Asheville Fire Department practiced rope maneuvers and evacuation techniques from the cat walk of the Civic Center arena. The next day found the department’s newest hires in Swannanoa at an arranged burn, part of the certification process for becoming a firefighter.
From APD Public Information Officer Kelley Webb:
“Even during winter months AFD must continue to train in order to be ready for an emergency. Throughout the year, AFD trains in all areas from EMS, to fire, to swift water rescue to what we did at the Civic Center: high angle training. Crews rotated through the Civic Center training in different scenarios to better prepare themselves in the event that technical rescue call comes in. Living in Asheville, we could easily encounter a high angle rescue to assist someone who gets into a situation during a rock climbing adventure, rappelling, a slip and fall during a hike, or even a window washer. Continuous training allows our firefighters to keep fresh on their skills in order to better serve the community.”
On December 16, training continued with a training burn in Swannanoa. The burn, set in a house donated for this purpose, was a mandatory portion of a certification that will result in the graduation of six new firefighters to the Asheville Fire Department. The AFD conducts such burns throughout the year to allow firefighters hands on experience with fire and fire behavior in a more controlled environment.
This particular training burn was conducted in collaboration with AB Tech’s continuing education course, Webb said.
More images from the Asheville Fire Department can be found at its Flickr account here. the AFD also posts announcements and updates via Twitter at twitter.com/AshevilleFD and on its Fire Line page here.
December 17, 2010
Despite two weekend winter storms and persistent sub-freezing temperatures, most streets in Asheville were open at the beginning of this week thanks to the constant attention of a roving fleet of snowplows and salt trucks.
On Tuesday, City of Asheville Public Works employees continued round-the-clock routes spreading a sand and salt mixture over approximately 500 miles of city owned and DOT-maintained roads, making sure that not only drivers but also emergency response vehicles could navigate Asheville’s streets.
Meanwhile, crews at the city’s Fleet Maintenance garage pulled similar shifts making repairs and keeping the fleet rolling.
With the exception of two satellite stations in Skyland and Candler, all City of Asheville plow and spreader truck routes originate at a mammoth shed on South Charlotte Street that holds 1,600 tons of salt and sand. When dispersed behind trucks and plows, the mix provides a blend of traction and thawing effect, Assistant Director of Public Works David Foster explains. When temperatures drop into the 20’s the trucks can add a spray of magnesium chloride, which reacts with the salt and allows it to work at lower temperatures.
The fleet of 18 trucks is operated by drivers from the city’s Streets and Stormwater Services divisions, working in 12-hour shifts. Foster estimates the team can distribute 25 to 50 tons of the mixture a day, beginning before a storm hits and continuing, sometimes for days, until roads have dried.
The city is also trying a new salt-brine system: a tank truck sprays a liquid mix on the roads, and as the liquid evaporates, it leaves behind a sheen of salt coating the road surface and preventing snow from building.
Driver Jennifer Mazza, who typically operates a street sweeper, covers a route through downtown and the neighborhoods around Martin Luther King Drive. On Monday, she said most of the roads were in good shape, but some less-travelled and steep streets remained slick. Asheville has the distinction of having many narrow, steep and winding roads in an urban setting, making it challenging to get trucks through. Downshifting and slowly making her way down one such street, Mazza noted noted that drivers won’t skip the difficult roads.
“You have to get it. That’s pretty much the motto. Nothing’s too steep,” she says.
In the Fleet Maintenance garage, mechanics made repairs from changing radiators to hydraulic lines. The constant routes are hard on the vehicles, says Fleet Manager Mark Stevens, as is the corrosive effect of the salt they disperse, making the need for repairs almost a given. “They are in and out of here every day,” Stevens says.
Getting trucks through tight roads requires the help of motorists. Drivers in residential areas are asked to park as close to the curb as possible so trucks can get through.
Knowing when a plow will service a street is a big concern of residents during and after a snow event. Priorities for plows are based on the volume of a street’s traffic flow and its connectivity, and streets are broken down into three categories to determine the order in which they will be addressed: primary, secondary and tertiary. This winter, the city’s Information Technology Services designed a Snowmapper application to mapAsheville that shows residents how their street is classified.
In the case of severe weather events, updates and information can be found at www.ashevillenc.gov, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cityofasheville, and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cityofasheville.
December 14, 2010
When Detective Louis Tomasetti’s superiors at the Asheville Police Department asked him to take on the role of Community Resource Officer for the city’s Central/South district after a year on the force, he had a special request for them. “I asked if I could work on what I saw as an emerging gang problem in Asheville,” says Tomasetti.
Tomasetti’s interest in gangs began during his law enforcement training at the North Carolina Justice Academy in Salemburg, NC and emerged during an internship in Carrolton, Texas, where he was in charge of filing gang interaction records for officers there. When he came to Asheville, he says, he noted some of the same signs here that he saw in Carrolton, and continued training after joining the APD, becoming part of the city’s first gang unit.
With five years on the APD under his belt, Tomasetti is now regional coordinator for the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association, which advises legislators about gang activity, and a member of several other associations that provide training and access to others working gang issues across the country. “Having up to date training is extremely important, because gang culture and trends change on a daily basis.” Tomasetti says. “The department has invested a lot in our gang officers to make sure we are able to offer expert opinions if we are called upon.”
The APD’s gang unit has undergone some changes, including developing partnerships with other local agencies, but the attention has paid off. In June 2009, the APD announced that the efforts of multiple police divisions and patrol units including the WNC Gang Task Force resulted in the seizure of more than 20 weapons, cash, and thousands of dollars worth of drugs in an operation that resulted in 140 felony criminal charges. Asheville has seen a marked decline in homicides since the formation of a gang unit as well.
“I give credit to the city for pushing that idea and going in that direction, as well as good collaboration with District Attorney’s office,” Tomasetti says.
Tomasetti was awarded an Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council award at this year’s National Night Out event in large part to his work with gang prevention, but he also stays engaged as part of the Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring program. Encouraged to join by his wife, who spent time as a Big Sister, Tomasetti was matched with a youth in the program two years ago.
“Everything’s been going really well. We’ve gone to the Health Adventure, Carowinds, Ghost Town in the Sky,” Tomasetti says. “The most important thing that I hear are the improvements from his mother and through other folks in his life.”
Being part of that program, Tomasetti says, has reinforced his belief that interaction with the community is crucial to maintaining relationships and having a positive impact.
“So much of my job is making arrests, taking away someone’s rights and putting them behind bars. It’s tough for police officers to do that. Nobody joins the police force saying ‘I want to lock everyone up.’” he says. “The vast majority of police officers want to improve their community. So it’s nice to have an outlet where you are intervening in possible problems, so that youth know they don’t have to go that route.”
December 13, 2010
On Thursday, December 9, City of Asheville elected officials and employees joined community members from East Asheville to officially open a new stretch of sidewalk at the intersection of Tunnel Road and Beverly Road. The project was at the top of a list of priorities that came out of an April community meeting with area residents, and includes sidewalks, ADA-compliant ramps at all points of the intersection and pedestrian crossing signals. The signals were supplied by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Transportation Director Ken Putnam said, freeing up additional funding to extend the sidewalk along Tunnel Road.
Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy joins community members and City of Asheville Public Works crews in a ribbon cutting officially opening the completed sidewalk project.
Street services crews at work on the sidewalk project in July.
December 10, 2010
In a Tuesday evening ceremony, the Asheville Police Department recognized 32 people who completed its Citizens Police Academy. The program, offered twice a year, takes participants through in-depth tours and descriptions of the inner workings of the Asheville Police Department to give them a better understanding of law enforcement and build relationships with APD officers.
“The primary thing we are trying to do is build a bridge of communication with the community,” said Crime Prevention Officer Allen Dunlap.
Allen Brailsford (left) and APD Chief William Hogan at the Citizens Police Academy graduation ceremony Tuesday night.
Three-hour classes over 13 weeks covered all aspects of law enforcement including evidence, forensics, constitutional law, patrol, criminal investigation and gang investigations, giving the participants a more intimate knowledge of the skills and risk it takes to protect and serve.
“It’s a big commitment. It always impresses me when you have the kind of interest to delve into this,” APD Chief William Hogan said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “I hope you have established some lines of communication, and that with communication comes trust.”
For participant Allen Brailsford, recently appointed to the city’s Police Advisory Committee, the experience was an eye opener.
“I can tell you we learned much more that I thought there would be,” Brailsford said. “I have a much greater appreciation for the police department after going through the program.”
Along with the regular classes, participants were invited to ride along with APD officers on a patrol and to learn to fire police issued weapons at the department’s firing range.
Firearm instruction and patrol ride-alongs are part of the APD's Citizens Police Academy course schedule.
“The first time I went to a class, I was hooked. I was in awe,” participant Toni Hicks said. “I will recommend this to people. It’s a great program.”
Several of the graduates are also participants in a program called “Getting Back to the Basics,” which was founded by APD Sgt. Quentin Miller. Getting Back to the Basics provides year-round support and services to families with children ages 11-21 who are socially or economically disenfranchised from the Asheville metropolitan community. Volunteers and families involved with the program arranged and served the meal at the Citizens Police Academy graduation.
Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy called all of the graduates “ambassadors of the police department,” and appealed to them to relay to the community the knowledge they have gained.
“Now you can go out and communicate to the community the reality of the police department and what we are doing to serve them as a city,” Bellamy said.
The Asheville Police Department hosts a Citizens Police Academy twice a year, as well as a Junior Citizens Police Academy in the summer. Participants must apply and be accepted in order to participate. For more information about these programs, contact Officer Dunlap at 259-5834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 9, 2010
Click here for a text version of this announcement.
December 8, 2010
From an Asheville Fire Department press release:
Units of the Asheville Fire Department responded to a reported residential structure fire at 23 Foxfire Drive, Turtle Creek Apartments on December 7, 2010 at approximately 2:00 am. The first arriving unit reported heavy smoke and soon after reported heavy fire conditions as well. AFD firefighters rescued 3 victims within the apartment complex, none reporting injuries. The fire required a 3 alarm response from AFD.
The fire spread through a common attic area and has severely damaged several apartment units within the structure. It took 50+ firefighters 1 hour and 15 minutes to bring the fire under control. The Asheville Fire Department was assisted by Skyland Fire Department, Buncombe County Rescue Squad, Reynolds Fire Department and Fairview Fire Department at the scene. Units from Riceville Fire Department assisted with standby crews within the City of Asheville to assist with further emergencies.
The American Red Cross is assisting with housing needs to those displaced.
The cause and origin of the fire is being investigated by the Arson Task Force at this time.
Units of the Asheville Fire Department spent most of the morning extinguishing hot spots, investigating and cleaning up after the Turtle Creek Apartments fire which broke out around 2 a.m. this morning. Thankfully, many units were called to the scene and together were able to extinguish the fire quickly avoiding what could have been a much more brutal outcome. Appreciation goes out to the many hands at work that performed rescues and extinguishment and to the fire wall which prevented the spread of the fire to the entire building. Because all aspects were present, lives undoubtedly were saved. Of the 30 units making up this section of apartments, only 15 were affected by fire due to the construction of the fire wall. Unfortunately 31 people have been displaced, but fortunately they have their lives. The cause of the fire is accidental and was due to unattended cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home injuries. Please be mindful of today’s tragedy at Turtle Creek Apartments not only when cooking during the holiday season, but any time you are cooking. For helpful tips on cooking safety, please visit www.nfpa.org.
December 7, 2010
The City of Asheville’s Information Technology Services Department is collecting ideas from the public for technological opportunities as part of a proposed application for an IBM Corporation Smarter Cities grant. IBM is currently taking applications for up to $400,000 for technology improvements that provide enhanced and efficient interactions between citizens and municipal organizations.
Asheville City Council will consider approving a grant application at its Dec. 14 meeting, and in advance of that presentation, IT Services is calling for ideas from the community for ways tech can be used to provide a greater level of service. In addition to phone and email (listed at the City’s web site here, citizens can contribute via a new Twitter handle at www.twitter/avlcio.
“We really, actively want to know how we can make technology better for people,” says IT Director Jonathan Feldman. “People are seeing our technology investments begin to pay off. This is an opportunity to ask ‘What’s next?’”
Though the City of Asheville’s past and upcoming technological advances make it a solid candidate for consideration, a good response of suggestions from the community will further strengthen the grant application, Feldman says.
The use of technology can provide platforms for information gathering and communication that may not have been possible in the past, and the best applications for technology may come from members the Asheville community.
Examples of ideas so far include applications to report street maintenance needs like potholes via smart phones and quick access to parking availability in city decks.
The City of Asheville has a strong record of providing technological pathways to get information to the public, including the award-winning mapAsheville Developer Mapper and Priority Places applications and a $2M Business Technology Improvement Project that is aimed at reducing paper-based systems and transforming the City’s 1960s-era core business systems into a portfolio of modern, open systems.
In 2010, an RFP process was begun to provide technology tools that will significantly improve development services in the City. The system will be designed to accommodate a changing business environment, increasing customer service and also driving transparency, opening up information to everyone.
***UPDATE*** Here’s the Smarter Cities challenge announcement.
Click here for more information about the City of Asheville’s Technology Improvement Projects.
December 6, 2010