DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Even as the officer vacancy rate at the Durham Police Department continues to rise, the department has increased proactive policing in target areas of violent crime, according to an open records request CBS 17 obtained.
As of Aug. 1, Durham Police had 113 sworn officer vacancies, according to data from Durham Police. That’s up from the 68 vacancies the department had in Sept. 2021.
But despite these vacancies, Durham Police has still been able to move forward with a proactive policing initiative that includes placing specialized units in target areas of the city where violent crime is a problem.
According to the violent crime initiative plan of action, it says officers are conducting traffic stops, knock and talks and patrols in these target locations.
In an interview from last week, Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews said they have seen crime go down slightly since April when this plan was put into place.
She said in addition to making arrests, officers have been able to help address the quality of life concerns in these areas as well.
“If we have officers in an area and they recognize something that’s a quality of life concern, or a community member brings it to them, they’re able to go back and report that and be a direct line to hopefully solve quality-of-life issues, which we know has a correlation with crime,” Andrews said.
Sharon Strudwick lives near the intersection of Cornwallis Road and Fayetteville Street. She said she has noticed an increase in officers patrolling the area.
“It makes me feel comfortable, because it lets me know they’re doing their job,” Strudwick said. “I would like to see Durham go back to being a peaceful city where you can walk up and down the street and not have to worry about if you’ll get shot before you can get back home.”
The department is doing the proactive policing work with fewer officers.
CBS 17 asked Larry Smith, the spokesman for the Durham Fraternal Order of Police, if he had heard about what impact the officer shortage has had on their efforts to do more proactive policing.
“Staffing affects everything,” Smith said. “If another unit was created, it was pulled from somewhere, so something suffers a little bit. But the challenge for law-enforcement leaders is they have to take the resources they have and prioritize them where the problem is. And so right now, I think Durham’s problem is violent crime.”
Smith said since Durham City Council approved a 10 percent pay increase for starting officer pay in January, fewer officers are leaving the department for other agencies. He said some officers have even decided to come back.
He also said officers feel they now have more support from city leaders.
“Overall, I would say I think morale has improved,” Smith said.
Smith said it will take time for the department to build back up their staff.
“When you have over 100 vacancies in a law-enforcement agency, it’s going to take many years to overcome that, unless all of a sudden you can do something where you’re running 40 and 50 person academies, back-to-back,” Smith said. “That’s just not happening in the law-enforcement profession right now.”
According to the FOP, this week six cadets graduated from the Durham Police BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training) class #55. In another academy four months ago, the department only had seven cadets graduate.
“You can’t make people go into the law enforcement profession,” Smith said.
Strudwick said as a resident of Durham it concerns her to see so many officer vacancies.
“It makes me feel scared because we don’t want to overwork the officers we already have working,” Strudwick said. “We need more officers. We need available officers who can be out here protecting the people.”
Strudwick said she would like to see more be done to try to bring more officers to Durham.
“We’re desperate for help from the police, because there’s too much shooting,” Strudwick said.
In January, Durham City Council approved a pay increase that raised the starting salary for officers in Durham from $38,511 to $42,593.
CBS 17 checked with other neighboring police departments and found Chapel Hill ($50,000), Raleigh ($50,301), and Cary ($55,411) all pay their starting officers at least $8,000 more per year than Durham.