Since being appointed to the City Council in May 2022, I have had the pleasure of having bimonthly meetings with Ryan Smith, Director of the Community Safety Program, to learn more about the needs of the Holistic Empathetic Assistance Response Team (HEART) program, an unarmed three-person team of peer support specialists, EMTs, and licensed mental health clinicians who respond to nonviolent behavioral health and quality-of-life calls for service, crisis call diversion, and care navigation. 

In these meetings we discussed the necessary resources required to serve more of Durham’s residents. I have been working with the HEART program and the NC Central University Department of Social Work Field office by establishing a pipeline that allows MSW Social Work interns to help with some of the cases and aftercare. These MSW students are trained through courses outlined by the Educational Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) and whose curriculum is outlined by nine competencies.

Ryan Smith stated that “because of [the] collaborative linkage with the City’s HEART program [and] the NC Central Social Work program, we have been able to serve more families, and the MSW interns have become a part of the fabric of the department helping with the workflow.” I am advocating for more funding for the HEART program and a significant amount for aftercare services for residents in crisis. While data supports the effectiveness of the Community Safety Department’s HEART community response, some situations are too complex and dangerous for this staff to handle. The City and County of Durham are fortunate to have active and well-trained law enforcement. 

Last week, the Memphis Police Department released video footage that many Americans viewed. As a mother and human being, my heart aches for Mr. Nichols, his son, family and friends, the Memphis community, and all those who watch the video release. With every blow and hit, he cried for his mother, and I wondered where we went wrong as a society—the callous disregard for human pain and suffering. Tyre Nichols suffered such abuse at the hands of five former police officers, which I find appalling. I stand in solidarity with those who demand accountability for law enforcement in America and strongly condemn the actions shown in the videos. 

Our community should hold those responsible for wrongdoing accountable, especially those sworn to protect it. As someone from a law enforcement family, I know firsthand how many sworn officers put their lives on the line daily. There is currently an outcry for increased accountability for law enforcement. As a resident of Durham and a City Councilwoman, I stand in support of our law enforcement agencies and recommend a three-prong approach to law enforcement accountability: 

1. Continue extensive law enforcement training with the addition of social work engagement techniques and cultural competency and humility training; 

2. Increase funding for law enforcement mental health and wellness needs; 

3. Implement strategic practices that would improve the relationship and trust between the community and law enforcement. 

Fortunately, Durham has Police Chief Patrice Andrews and Sheriff Clarence Birkhead, who are passionate and dedicated to the welfare of their residents. These two individuals have a proven track record of working with and listening to residents to improve Durham’s well-being. The issue is not about politics but right or wrong. As I continue to meet with stakeholders, but more importantly, the residents of Durham, I will make informed decisions for all the people of Durham with a goal to enhance a safer city for all.

Dr. Monique Holsey-Hyman is an at-large member of the Durham City Council and an assistant professor in NC Central University’s Department of Social Work.

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