Sheriff gives 2023 Buncombe County crime data, eyes making co-responder program permanent (2024)

Ryley OberAsheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE – Sheriff Quentin Miller recently presented updated crime stats for 2023 at a Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting and announced that the county’s community co-responder program will be utilized on a more permanent basis.

Along with providing State Bureau of Investigation data showing that large parts of Buncombe County saw a 15% drop in crime from 2021-2022, Miller presented the number of larceny and thefts, assaults, breaking and entering, and drug crimes that have occurred through Oct. 15 this year.

So far this year, there have been 576 cases of larceny and theft as compared to 836 for all last year in unincorporated Buncombe County, which is patrolled by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. If the rate stays the same, there would be about 660 cases of larceny and theft by the end of the year. There have been 659 assaults so far this year, which would come to about 750 for the year if the rate stays the same. There were 857 assaults in all of 2022. Breaking and entering crimes have totaled 226 so far in 2023, with 332 total in 2022. If the breaking and entering rate stays the same, there will be about 260 by the end of 2023.

Previous reporting: NC SBI report: Buncombe County crime rate down 15% last year; What about Asheville?

Of the data presented, the number of drug and narcotics crimes is tracking the closest to surpassing its 2022 count, with 345 crimes so far in 2023, on pace for a total of 394. There were 381 total in 2022.

“We do not release stats; this is what comes from the state,” Miller said at the county commissioner meeting Oct. 17. “So, we have not tinkered or messed with the stats or anything of that nature. It is what it says it is.”

Missing from Miller’s presentation was data on the number of arsons and forcible sex offenses that have occurred this year. There’s been 10 incidents of arson as compared to 30 total in 2022, and 11 incidents of forcible sex offense compared to 30 total in 2022, according to spokesperson Aaron Sarver.

“There’s been a lot of discussion on how we can address issues downtown,” Miller said during his presentation. “But I’m not just going to put it downtown. I want to say, ‘How do we address issues throughout our county?’”

Miller said this is done in part by the community co-responder model, which began as a pilot over the summer and will answer calls “more on a permanent basis.” Within the model, community paramedics and mental health professionals employed by Buncombe County EMS, specifically the Community Paramedic Program, respond to calls with a sheriff’s deputy.

“The model is that we want the community paramedics to check them out, and then the next step would be, is there a mental health or substance issue? That’s where the clinician comes in,” Miller said at the county commission meeting. “The last thing we want to do would be enforcement with the deputy present.”

During the pilot phase over the summer, the co-responder program answered 191 calls, according to Sarver. Of those calls, none resulted in arrests. The pilot ended in August, and the co-responder unit is not currently responding to calls.

The model responded to specific types of calls that are low-level and nonviolent crimes, such as when an individual is in distress, in need of services or experiencing mental health issues, Sarver told the Citizen Times. These could include welfare checks, reports of a person down, mental health problems and overdoses.

"We'll have an announcement about the future of the co-responder unit in the near future," Sarver said.

More: Asheville public safety committee gets update on community responder pilot program

More: Buncombe sheriff: Largest fentanyl seizure in county nets 5 pounds, 1 million lethal doses

“What really excites me is that we are having the right people respond to the situation,” Miller said. “This is like a diversion, if you will, that they do not need to come to the jail when their needs are mental health or substance use issues.”

Miller went on to say that substance use and mental health are the reasons these individuals end up in the Buncombe County Detention Center.

“This is the cause, a lot of times, of why they are committing crimes,” Miller said. “The crimes we are talking about are misdemeanors, we are talking about panhandling, we’re talking about soliciting.”

He added that “if you have mental health issues, you don’t need to be in our jail” and “if you have substance abuse issues, you do not need to be in our jail, you need to be getting some help.” Miller said that detention is not equipped to handle “a lot of the issues we are being faced with.”

Through the program, these individuals are connected with services like drug rehab or behavioral health services, Buncombe County EMS Director Taylor Jones said.

“I’m excited to see more of (the co-responder program) on a larger basis so we can track the data and tell a larger story about how this is really going to, in my opinion, be the whole ‘reimagined public safety’ that the whole nation has been talking about a long time,” Jones said.

Commissioners, including Parker Sloan, Amanda Edwards, Martin Moore and Al Whitesides, voiced their support of the program.

“I remember when I became a commissioner, we were talking about spending $50 million to build a new jail to put people in it that shouldn’t even be in jail,” Whitesides said. “But now, thank goodness, we are looking at other ways that are a lot more positive to the community and to the people we are helping.”

Ryley Ober is the Public Safety Reporter for Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at rober@gannett.com and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober

Sheriff gives 2023 Buncombe County crime data, eyes making co-responder program permanent (2024)
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