Durham Residents Call for Expanding Unarmed 911 Response Program

Source: News & Observer

In June 2022, the City of Durham’s Community Safety Department launched the HEART program to offer care to Durham residents that are experiencing nonviolent mental health crises or quality of life concerns.

HEART workers are unarmed specialists that offer crisis call diversion, care navigation, and community response. During the pilot phase, HEART workers delivered aid, supplies, and community resources in over 4,000 responses. 

The overall goal of the HEART program is to limit potentially dangerous interactions with police, as well as connect Durham residents to mental health resources and follow-up care. HEART is the first program of its kind in North Carolina, and has received praise from around the country since its launch last summer. 

As it stands now, the program operates with limited hours and only in 12 police beats, covering about one-third of the city. Several community members asked the Durham city council to expand the HEART program at a recent council meeting, according to The News & Observer.

Leading up to the city council meeting, Have a HEART Durham organized a rally for 24/7 citywide access. The expansion of the HEART program has also been supported by several business owners in Durham.

It’s unclear how much it would cost the city of Durham to expand the HEART program; the Community Safety Department’s budget was nearly $4.8 million last year. However, on May 15, City Manager Wanda Page will present her recommended budget to the city council.

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