DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Rushing to his car at any given moment, Kirby Jones responds to 911 calls that police would normally take.
He’s part of Durham’s HEART Program, which will now operate 12 hours a day, 365 days a year in every part of the city.
“It’s a challenge to be better,” the HEART Program shift supervisor said. “As we go citywide, it’s going to require more compassion. It’s going to require more presence, more accountability.”
With the program set to expand on Monday, community members will see more HEART team members wearing teal on city streets as well as their branded vehicles.
The primary goal is to help people who are going through a mental health or quality-of-life crisis.
“This is crucial for all aspects of our community,” Community Safety Department Clinical Manager Abena Bediako said. “We have been receiving calls from certain beats and districts that we are unable to serve due to our staffing.”
Nearly $5 million of funding in the latest budget allowed the HEART team to bring in 19 new employees, growing the department by 150%. And it’s still hiring.
“Every single call that we go on has been a benefit to the neighbor that we’ve served,” Bediako said.
The Community Safety Department estimates the expansion will help the program respond to 13,000 more calls that weren’t eligible before because it didn’t cover the entire city.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but a way to also make sure that I’m serving in the best capacity that I can,” Jones said.
Those in need just have to call 911, and Emergency Communications will send the appropriate team.
Residents can track the progress on HEART’s online dashboard.
They’ve managed to respond to over 6,000 calls this year, which officials said helps to alleviate a significant staffing shortage at the police department.
“The Durham Police Department continues to be fully supportive of the HEART Program and sees this expansion as a way to offer more support to our residents experiencing a mental health crisis,” Police Chief Patrice Andrews said. “We value our partnership with the program because it enables us to focus on more appropriate law enforcement needs throughout our community.”