Second COPS Team concludes five-week program

BY Emily Ostertag

Barnardsville — The Buncombe County Sheriffs Department’s COPS Team held its f o l l o w – u p meeting last Wednesday at the Big Ivy Community Center to speak with residents about their progress over the last fi ve weeks. According to Sheriff Van Duncan, key com-munity issues were identified at the first meeting in April that the five deputies on the team were set to address. “We go around to different sections of the county that need specific attention, or if they have some issues going on, and this was our time to come out to Barnardsville,” Sheriff Van Duncan said. “I had come out here about a month ago and talked about some issues they had, primarily focus-ing around drugs.”Sheriff Van Duncan said drug abuse was the main focus of what the COPS Team addressed in Barnardsville, in partner with other area law enforcement. Responsible for about 90 per-cent of the response going to Barnardsville and other parts of the county, he explained the COPS Teams’ efforts go toward strengthening the effectiveness of their responses in these areas by building rapport with the communities. On the Barnardsville COPS Team were five main Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department deputies, officers and detec-tives, including Deputy Bobby Anders, Deputy Brent Altman, Detective Casey Roberts, Officer Sam Gibson and Offi cer Donnie Ross. Each of these personnel undertook different key issues expressed as concerns by the community, said Sheriff Van Duncan. Although this was the next scheduled location for the COPS Team to locate, Sheriff Van Dun-can had been contacted by the Barnardsville community separately in regards to the issues, he said.“I had been asked to meet on some issues concerning drugs in the community, the sale of drugs—primarily a lot of use, finding some needles in places where they hadn’t seen that kind of thing before,” said the Sheriff. “There were concerns about, actually, kids in some certain families where they felt like there was a lot of drug use going on. With this, we’ve partner with Social Services, Health and Human Services and some folks with the Smokey Mountain Center.”The goal in tackling the drug issues in Barnardsville was not only to approach it from a law enforcement perspective, explained Sheriff Van Duncan, but to provide help for people struggling with addiction and mental health problems. Smokey Mountain Center is a regional reference facility with an office in Asheville, said Ashley Edmonds, community outreach specialist for the program. It is geared toward specifi cally helping people who are isolated geo-graphically or economically from finding help by referencing them to local and affordable options, she explained. In the last 18 to 24 months the use of heroin in and around Asheville, and all over Buncombe County has risen exponentially, said Sheriff Van Duncan. He believes, especially for locations such as Barnardsville, the rise in heroin’s popularity is due to its price compared to prescription narcotics and its availability. “We really want to strengthen our partnerships and our collaboration with communities and local law enforcement,” explained Edmonds. “We want to support them in all that they do because they are seeing these people com-ing off the streets, or getting criminally in trouble for breaking and entering—things like that—related to drugs. They can be a great way to link someone to treatment, or to help or resources that they may need. That’s where we can come in.” Along with the Smokey Mountain Center, RHA Services Inc. and their regional director from Asheville, Krista Ingles, was at Wednesday night’s COPS meet-ing to discuss further options for those seeking help with sub-stance abuse and mental health problems. Many members of the com-munity spoke out during the meeting, both expressing their gratitude for the success of the program and their remaining concerns. Complaints about speeding on Barnardsville High-way and Dillingham Road were brought up by several residents. The COPS Team reassured them that just because their fi ve weeks in the community are over, the ef-fects from this program and their further efforts to improve the community are not. Amongst the positive feedback, Barnardsville Firefi ghter Kevin Tipton said, “I’ve been a part of your fi re department down here for 24 years, and since the sheriff and his team have been out here we’ve had one overdose. We were averaging four to five a month prior.” This program works, Tipton continued. That one overdose they had in the last five weeks did not even involve narcotics, he explained. “Locking folks up is really an unsustainable fix to this situation,” said Sheriff Van Duncan. “If you can get the mental health and substance abuse things dialed in for them, they can come out of it, and work and be a part of their families again.”

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