Last week, our intern Rebecca Schneid wrote about Durham’s new Community Safety Department, which aims to reimagine policing so that social workers and mental health professionals, rather than armed officers, can respond to nonviolent 911 calls, among other initiatives. We think the department sounds like a good idea, but others have some concerns. David Smith, the secretary of Friends of Durham, sent us the following letter:

“We at the Friends of Durham have some concerns about the new Durham Community Safety Department. While the concept may be good, we are skeptical about how practical it will be. This is an academic experiment and may have unintended consequences. 

Firstly, how will the 911 dispatcher know who to send to a situation? Police officers will tell you that some of the most hazardous situations they see are domestic disputes. These can rapidly escalate to a violent armed confrontation. If the conflict cannot be resolved can these new people arrest someone if the situation becomes violent? Will they have that authority? We may be sending unarmed personnel into dangerous situations. 

What about traffic incidents? Frequently this involves some sort of violation. Will these safety personnel be able to write citations? 

Presumably these safety personnel will have some sort of uniform so citizens will understand they have some sort of official position? Isn’t part of the reasoning to calm problem situations by not having uniformed police called? The community will likely not understand the difference. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? 

The Community Safety Department may be a good idea but we should start small and see how effective it is before we transfer more funding from the police department. Close monitoring with a clear, stated goal is essential.”

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