The Community Safety Department (CSD) exists to bring people together – across agencies and neighborhoods – to reimagine what public safety can look like and what additional investments we can make to increase our shared sense of safety and security in Durham. The department will engage broadly, and through research and collaboration, to identify, implement, and evaluate new approaches to enhance public safety that may not involve a law enforcement response or the criminal justice system.
Learn More About Our Work
Why did the City of Durham create the new department?
Understanding Community Needs
The work that ultimately led to the creation of this new department began nearly a year ago. In August, at the request of the City Manager and in partnership with RTI International, the City launched an in-depth analysis of 911 calls for service data to help us understand the needs of residents and what types of resources could best address those needs. This work included:
- Analysis of nearly 1 million calls that came into Durham between October 2017 and October 2020
- A use of force analysis
- A survey of and focus groups with Durham first responders including the Durham Police Department (DPD)
- Research of other promising alternative response models occurring in cities across the country
- View the results from this effort
Exploring New Approaches
Based on this analysis, evidence from other communities, and input from City Council, we identified some 911 call types where we believe, and find evidence in other cities, that we can best respond to the needs of residents by dispatching trained, unarmed responders that may include licensed clinical social workers and mental health clinicians paired with paramedics. These call types include:
- Some calls involving mental or behavioral health needs
- Minor traffic incidents
- Quality of life issues
- Calls for general assistance.
Creation of the Community Safety Department
The need to advance this important work that aims to send the right response based on the need of residents, as well as to oversee the City Council’s recent investment of nearly $1 million in an expansion of Durham County’s violence interrupter program, led the City Manager to the conclusion that it was necessary to create a new department.
Statement from City Manager Wanda Page about the creation of the Community Safety Department:
“One of the highest priorities areas we think about, and work on daily, is how best to keep our residents safe and well. It’s no secret that there is great concern about violent crime in Durham. At the same time, there is concern about the history of policing in our country and its impact on people of color. Right now, Durham has an opportunity to lead the way and find new, equitable, and innovative approaches to keep our community safe and well.
The creation of this department reflects our belief that responding to the safety and wellness needs of all of our residents requires more than police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. Our first responders remain absolutely necessary and crucial to our public safety services moving forward. We still need policing to help protect our community.
But, it’s unfair to expect them to address every single issue our residents experience. For example, to expect that - on top of everything they must do - they address mental and behavioral health needs or connect residents to social services to help them through a crisis. I’d like to note that many of our officers also support exploring other ways to address 911 calls that don’t need an officer response.
Meeting these sorts of diverse needs requires that we broaden our imagination of what public safety and first responders look like in Durham. I believe, as does the City Council, that creating this department is an important first step in that journey.”
What will the community safety department do?
Community Safety has three priority areas of focus in its first year:
1. Develop and pilot alternative response models for a subset of 911 calls.
The goal of alternative responses is to send the right response based on the needs of residents in crisis. People call 911 for a variety of reasons and needs. There is evidence to support that some of these diverse needs could best be met by clinicians and other trained civilian responders with extensive expertise responding to mental and behavioral health needs, providing trauma-informed care, and connecting residents to services.
2. Provide oversight and management of contracts and partnerships.
Community Safety will provide oversight and management of a number of contracts and partnerships with external organizations that are intended to promote a safer Durham, including the City’s contract with Durham County to expand Bull City United’s Violence Interrupter program and with Legal Aid to continue the Durham Expunction and Restoration Program that provides free legal services to residents to improve employability by helping remove eligible charges from criminal records and by restoring driving privileges.
3. Providing staff support to Durham's Community Safety and Wellness Task Force.
The community-led Durham Community Safety and Wellness Task Force was created by the City, County, and Durham Public Schools, beginning a two-year term in April 2021. Completely independent from the Community Safety Department, the task force is “charged with examining the public safety and wellness needs of Durham residents and communities, educating residents on existing safety and wellness resources, and providing recommendations for additional programs to enhance public safety and wellness that rely on community-based prevention, intervention, and re-entry services as alternatives to policing and the criminal legal system.”
The Community Safety Department's role is solely to provide staff support to the task force that may include answering research questions, collecting and analyzing data requested by taskforce members, and providing general administrative support. Community Safety staff do not set or drive the agenda of the task force. It is truly a community-led body.
What specific alternative responses is Community safety planning to pilot?
Our goal is to send the right response based on the needs of residents in crisis. The department is considering alternative responses for some calls involving behavioral and mental health needs, quality of life concerns, general assistance, and minor traffic related incidents. Other cities, including Denver, CO, are already demonstrating that some of these call types can be safely and effectively addressed by other types of trained, unarmed responders.
This work will require months of careful planning to which Community Safety is committed. We are early in the process and do not have any timetables yet for when to expect pilots to begin. We will provide regular updates throughout the process.
Specifically, Community Safety is building collaborative planning teams working to launch pilots in the following areas:
- Crisis Call Diversion: Embedding mental health clinicians into our 911 call center to improve our ability to identify and redirect non-emergent, non-life-threatening calls for service that are mental health related.
- Behavioral Health Response Teams: Dispatching mobile crisis teams that may include paramedics/EMTs, clinicians, and peer support specialists to respond to calls involving people in behavioral health crisis and quality of life calls instead of police officers.
- Traffic-related Alternative Responses: Sending trained civilian responders to minor traffic incidents or abandoned vehicles (this would require approval from state that has been granted to two other NC cities).
How will the department engage with other public safety agencies in this work?
To be successful, Community Safety will need to engage broadly with a wide range of people with relevant expertise, including expertise that comes from professional and academic training, as well as expertise that comes from lived experience. The department is committed to an ongoing, highly collaborative planning process that includes other government agencies in the City and County, as well as local health providers. Community Safety will also work with Durham residents and other community organizations throughout the planning process to help inform and shape the design and evaluation of new response models.
To learn more and share your ideas, please contact:
Ryan Smith, Community Safety Director | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your interest in joining our team!
Community Safety is a new department, and we will be doing a lot of hiring over the next year. We are looking for individuals committed to the department’s mission and who want to be part of work that reduces harm and is highly collaborative, people-centered, equity-oriented, data-driven, trauma-informed.
Alternative Response Pilots
About half of our current positions will be dedicated to piloting new response models to a subset of 911 calls. We are in the planning process for these pilots, and we will not begin filling these positions until those plans are complete. These positions may have backgrounds as social workers, licensed clinicians, qualified mental health professionals, peer support specialists, counselors, and case managers. During the pilot phase, we may contract out with other providers to recruit and hire these positions. If you are interested in receiving a notification email when recruitment for these positions begins, please fill out this short form.