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Durham’s HEART Program of Unarmed First Responders to Expand

Source: ABC 11

Upon approval of the city budget, Durham’s unarmed first responder unit, HEART, will be expanding soon, according to ABC 11. The Holistic Empathetic Assistance Response Team, or HEART, currently employs about 20 people who range from EMTs to admins to clinicians who aim to assist and de-escalate 911 calls that relate to mental health issues.  

The program has garnered a lot of community support and national attention since its launch last June. In the first six months, the HEART team responded to more than 2,500 calls related to trespassing, mental health, domestic disputes and much more. Overall, in the one year HEART has operated in Durham, they’ve answered 6,500 calls.   

Much of the feedback HEART has received has been a need for the team to be available citywide and 24/7; as it stands now, HEART has only been able to operate in around a third of the city, assisting with about a fifth of the calls it receives. 

The 2023-24 budget for the city of Durham allotted roughly $2 million for its Community Safety Department which houses the HEART response team. 

The increase in funding will allow the HEART program to grow by %150% with 27 new openings. With a larger staff, the service is hoping to expand citywide with availability 12 hours a day. The city aims for the department to handle 13,900 calls a year, accounting for roughly 10% of the 911 calls the city receives.

Shanise Hamilton, a Durham resident and member of Durham Beyond Policing, has been working with the city to develop the program and has pushed for expansion.

“It’s sad that you know, it’s only been a small part of our community that has had access to this program. But we all deserve to have access to and skilled professionals who can come and help us in a moment of crisis,” Hamilton said.

She said that she’s heard several personal stories from people who wished that an unarmed person had been available when they were in crisis.

“It’s just this feeling of safety and relief in a moment of crisis,” Hamilton expressed. “That little piece of relief to have help coming and the help that’s coming is actually coming to help me in this moment.”

Read more from ABC 11

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