Durham police chief C.J. Davis wants to add seventy-two new officers to her department over the next three years.
The proposal is preliminary—city manager Tom Bonfield says budget analysts are still evaluating it—but it’s already getting pushback from residents who say more police doesn’t equal safer streets. The request comes at a time when the city already spends $105 million on public safety, when crime is down in Durham, and when the department often highlights improved community relations.
So why does the Durham Police Department need seventy-two more cops?
Right now, Davis told the city council at a budget retreat earlier this month, the DPD’s staffing level doesn’t meet the demand. And that means not only that officers aren’t available for training, but the city has to shell out nearly $900,000 a year in overtime while asking its cops to work an “unreasonable schedule.”
Overall, the DPD has the equivalent of 547 full-time sworn officers—an increase of 47, or nearly 10 percent, over 2006. In the same period of time, Durham’s population grew by 27 percent and calls for service to the department grew 25 percent, although high-priority calls have fallen recently. Davis told the council the department loses about fifty officers per year through attrition.
Right now, 172 patrol officers are assigned to thirty-five beats throughout the city. The proposal would increase that number to 244 by the 2021–22 fiscal year, at an additional cost of about $2 million per year.
These “front-line call takers,” Davis told the council, are distributed equally across the city’s districts (though the smaller downtown District 5 has fewer officers than the other four) and throughout the day.
“At present, we have sort of a one-hat-fits-all schedule,” she said. “… We hit our peaks citywide between noon and eight p.m. However, the distribution of officers is the same no matter the time of day. So when call volume is up, officers leave their assigned beats and have to be moved or travel to other areas of the city to support call volume.”
Currently, officers are paid overtime to fill staffing shortages. Davis said this has cost about $894,000 per year over the last three years. That money comes from vacant positions that would be filled by this proposal, meaning the department wouldn’t save money by using less overtime. Still, Davis told the council, “we should not have to get successful numbers by using overtime.”
“What I’m talking about today is a plan to continue to reduce crime,” she said. “Three years from now, if we have the same amount of officers, we’re going to use the same amount of overtime, if not more, because there are new demands.”
The proposal—which stems from a recommendation by the International Association of Police Chiefs—would allow the department to overhaul its patrol schedule to allow for shorter, overlapping shifts based on when the most calls come in.
In its first year, the proposal would add twenty-five new officers. Eighteen of them would be assigned to a pilot patrol schedule in District 4, in which officers work 10.5-hour shifts for four days, then take four days off. Five would staff a new Community Engagement Unit—modeled after one in McDougald Terrace that Davis says has reduced crime and improved relationships there. Another two would expand the department’s training capabilities.
Asked why the agency needs more officers when crime is down, Davis says she wants to give officers more time to patrol their beats, rather than just rush from call to call.
“In the community, people expect to see officers patrolling,” she told the council. “… Even in my community, I don’t see Durham police officers just riding the beat. It’s nice to be able to see someone riding up and down the street when there’s not a call.”
Several of Durham’s Partners Against Crime programs, resident groups that promote collaboration with police, are backing Davis’s proposal. District 2 PAC co-facilitator Rebecca Redd-Jolly says that the North Durham district hasn’t seen a major increase in crime, but police staffing there hasn’t kept up with population growth. And recent incidents, such as a gang-related shooting on North Roxboro Road, have alarmed them.
“We see the seventy-two officers over the next three years as a way of trying to deter crime,” says Redd-Jolly.
The opposite is true for other Bull City residents.
“The success at McDougald Terrace is measurable,” council member Jillian Johnson told Davis at the retreat. “However, I don’t want to continue without saying that seeing a cop rolling up and down the street isn’t nice for everyone.”
On the 2018 Durham resident survey, 50 percent of black respondents said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the relationship between police and their community, compared with 67 percent of white respondents. Similarly, 65 percent of respondents who earned more than $60,000 per year rated law enforcement positively, compared to 50 percent of people with incomes lower than $60,000.
Council member Charlie Reece told Davis that, while her proposal has merit, it’s “going to be an incredibly difficult lift” to convince many Durham residents that patrol staffing should be increased by 42 percent. The Durham County Sheriff’s Office is also looking to increase its ranks in the coming year, requesting twenty-nine additional detention officers and seven patrol officers.
During a public hearing last week, fifteen people—representing groups such as Southerners on New Ground and Demilitarize Durham2Palestine—spoke against Davis’s proposal. They suggested the $1.7 million needed to fund the first twenty-five positions would be better spent on things like affordable housing, re-entry services for offenders, youth activities, job training, transit, and hiring people already in the community to serve as medics, counselors, and mediators in their neighborhoods.
“We continue to support police despite all evidence that they do not keep us safe,” activist Danielle Purifoy told the council. “There’s not an actual nexus between the police and the issues that plague our communities.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Rebecca Redd-Jolly as the PAC 4 co-facilitator.
Contact staff writer Sarah Willets by email at email@example.com, by phone at 919-286-1972, or on Twitter @sarah_willets.