DURHAM, N.C.(WNCN) – Despite a request from the chief and a recommendation from the city manager, the Durham Police Department will not increase its number of patrol officers.
The Durham City Council voted four to three against a proposal to add 18 positions to District 4, which has had the city’s highest totals of violent crimes in recent years including homicides, though District 3 has the most homicides in 2019. The city has 547 sworn officers, 172 of whom are assigned to patrol shifts.
Police Chief C.J. Davis asked the council to increase the number of patrol officers by 72 to a total of 244 in 2022. The proposal discussed at a Thursday morning meeting of the council focused on adding 18 officers In District 4 who would work four days in a row and then take four days off, with shifts lasting 10.5 hours each day.
Officers in the police department currently work thousands of hours of overtime each year to fill in due to staffing shortages.
“You know what I think is dangerous? I think it’s dangerous for an overworked cop to show up at my house,” said Councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton, who supported the proposal.
“There’s a whole lot more that these folk do than just fight crime, and we’re asking them to do it for a whole lot more people each year. 20 people a day are moving to the city,” he said.
“So whatever money we spent on our house last year, the house is bigger, and there are more people at the table, and more people to serve.”
Councilman Charlie Reece, who opposed the proposal, said there does not appear to be a need for more officers. He said crime in 2018 was abnormally low, and acknowledged that the first five months of 2019 “have been a real challenge.”
There have been 17 murders in the city in 2019 and there were 17 in all of 2017, but Reece said overall crime in 2019 is far below what Durham dealt with in 2017.
“When you look at the multi-year trend, we are headed in the right direction,” Reece said.
“With respects to calls for service, response times, clearance rates, these are all the ways that we measure how a police department is meeting the challenge of crime in our community, and those measures, it does appear that the work that we have and the work that we’re doing is meeting the need.”
Reece referred to the debate over the 18 new patrol officers as the most controversial aspect of the 2019-20 budget.
Mayor Steve Schewel suggested cutting the police department’s request in half. The estimated cost of adding nine officers would match the amount of money needed to increase the pay for all municipal workers to at least $15 an hour. The council discussed providing a minimum livable wage for all city employees.
“I don’t want to go and say to McDonald’s, ‘you need to your wage to $15 an hour’ and the city of Durham not do that,” Schewel said.
Councilwoman Javiera Caballero said the Thursday discussion was likely a case of one or the other between the police officer funding and providing pay increases for the lowest paid city employees.
Chief Davis did not believe nine new patrol officers would be sufficient.
“It would be very tough, we would end up pulling people from another area in order to try to make that happen,” Davis said.
City manager Thomas Bonfield said Durham has the funds to cover both sets of costs.
“It was something that I felt strongly was an opportunity to try a new policing method, and we’ll just have to continue with the [personnel] resources that we have,” he said.
Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman said the city needs to spend money as part of its continued growth. Freeman read portions of statements she gave during a campaign interview in 2017, in which she discussed community policing.
“While these forms of policing may cost more in the short term, in the long term costs should decrease or at least stay the same with inflation and readjustments.
Freeman and Middleton voted in favor of adding 18 officers. Schewel joined them in voting in favor of nine officers.
Reece, Caballero, Vernetta Alston, and Jillian Johnson voted against both proposals for patrol officers.
“Not even one of 18. Not four out of 18. Not 6 out of 18. How do we justify that,” Middleton said.
“I support not saying to [the chief and city manager] that you’re 100 percent wrong. If our chief and manager are this far off base, then we need to talk about having a new chief and a new manager. They’ve had all these years to make an assessment of what this city is like.”
Middleton continued to defend Chief Davis and praised her past experience as Deputy Chief of the Atlanta Police Department and her forthcoming promotion as president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. He said the city needs to trust Davis’s judgment.
“[The council] made a decision that flowed from philosophy, from philosophical entrenchment, rather than something that’s based upon actual data points about this police force. I think it was the wrong decision,” Middleton told reporters after the meeting.
“Everybody on this council has great regard for our chief. I think it’s unprecedented for a respected department head to come and make a request–and for it to get this far in the process–and it is utterly denied.”
Davis exited the council chambers without speaking to the media and did not respond to requests for comment.
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