DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – During Monday night’s council meeting, the city invited the public to share thoughts on the city’s proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year.
One thing the budget proposes is funding a new community safety department that will focus on alternative responses to some 911 calls.
The plan is to hire social workers and nurses to send to certain calls instead of armed police officers. These unarmed responders would go to mental health calls, minor traffic accidents, and quality of life calls.
In an effort to fund it, the budget originally called to cut five vacant positions from the Durham Police Department. But in late May, city councilors voted to freeze an additional 15 positions and cut up to that many positions in January to help fund the community safety department.
“I know that we are going to need more resources in the department, and I believe those resources should come from the police department because that is the work we are moving, is the work of police,” Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said during a budget work session last month.
But there are still unanswered questions as to who would dispatch these unarmed responders and what calls they can legally respond to.
Meanwhile, residents who live in east Durham wake up to gunfire going off in their neighborhoods in the middle of the night and are concerned about the city wanting to cut police positions.
Charlitta Burruss lives in Edgemont Elms in east Durham. She woke up to gunfire outside her apartment on Saturday morning at 3:58 a.m.
“I heard a ‘rapid fire’ of gunshots,” Burruss said. “It was so bad I thought the shots were coming through my side door or that my front door was blown off it was so loud.”
Burruss said the city does need social workers, but she said they need armed officers as well.
“We need the police, it’s dangerous out here,” Burruss said. “I should not have to be afraid to come out of my apartment.”
James Chavis also lives in east Durham. He said he has concerned about how they’ll determine which calls to send the social workers to and if the social workers will be safe going to certain calls.
“If you’re going to get social workers to do the police department’s work, are you going to make sure they’re educated and that they have protection?” Chavis said.
Burruss is encouraging her community speak out about their concerns.
“Some crimes are going unsolved, and homicides are not solved,” Burruss said. “Durhamites need to talk about your city and also get your city back on track.”
The Durham County FOP has also voiced concerns recently about city council wanting to cut vacant police officer positions.
“This is all a trial-and-error program, and the police department doesn’t want to give up positions to get a trial program off the ground and then fight to get those positions back,” Larry Smith, spokesperson for the Durham County FOP said in late May.
Durham City Council will vote on the budget proposal on June 21.