DURHAM N.C. (WNCN) –Durham County’s sheriff held the first of many community public safety discussions Tuesday night but with a mass shooting in Texas just hours before the meeting, he also addressed the tragedy.

Tuesday’s meeting focused on the mental health needs of the community, which Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said goes hand in hand with fighting crime.

“We have to have this conversation and we have to have it in our community,” Birkhead said. “It’s all about education and letting people know where they can get the help they need.”

That’s why he started the discussion series with mental health professionals, crisis intervention teams and anyone who wants to show up at libraries all over the county.

“Try to get more resources out to the people who really need them,” Birkhead said.

Tuesday, the inaugural discussion had an even heavier meaning for the sheriff as violent crime not only grips local streets but as a gunman opened fired on children in a Texas elementary school just hours before.

“I held a moment of silence as (news) came in about Texas,” Birkhead said. “In law enforcement, we hate to hear about these mass shootings. We’re having them all too often.”

Texas officials have not released a motive or any information on the gunman’s mental state.

But Birkhead says he sees the effects mental health has in Durham. During the meeting, he advocated for more mental health education and training as well as for more crisis responders who go out with officers and deputies.

“Certainly the spike in violent crime that we’re seeing–today, the tragedy in Texas–I have to think that there’s a mental health connection there, I don’t know,” Birkhead said. “But when you hear about those situations and those incidents, you have to think, what went wrong? What happened? What led that young man or that young woman to commit those crimes.”

The next Durham county community public safety meetings are scheduled for:

  • June 28 at North Regional Library on “LGBTQIA & Criminal Justice” topics
  • July 26 at East Regional Library on the topic of “The Eviction Process”
  • August 23 at Southwest Regional Library on the topic of “Keeping Kids Safe”