DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham City Councilor Jillian Johnson shared CBS 17’s story on Twitter Tuesday morning and said that the vacant police officer positions in Durham should be filled with unarmed responders instead.
Johnson shared CBS 17’s tweet, which said that the Durham Police Department currently has 80 vacant officer positions and that the department is now considering sending criminal investigators, traffic investigators, and other specialized teams out on patrol to make up for the shortage of officers.
Johnson said in her tweet, “over 94% of Durham’s 911 calls are not related to violent crime. We should fill these positions with trained unarmed first responders instead of police officers.”
Johnson was not available for an interview on Tuesday, but she agreed to speak with CBS 17 on Wednesday.
This comes after CBS 17 broke the story on Monday about the new measures the Durham Police Department is having to take to make sure patrol shifts in the city are covered.
According to internal emails CBS 17 obtained from the Durham Police Department in an open records request, staffing for patrols is often below 75 percent and has dipped close to 50 percent.
An internal email sent by Deputy Chief of Police Joseph Kelly in August to other police officials said that officers in criminal investigations, traffic investigations, community services, and other specialized units may soon have to go out on patrol to make up for the shortage of officers.
Sources have told CBS 17 this will take effect in the coming weeks.
CBS 17 reached out to Mayor Pro Tem Mark Anthony Middleton and asked if he would support Johnson’s suggestion to fill the vacant officer positions in the Durham Police Department with trained unarmed first responders.
“I think in our toolbox we should have the ability to send the appropriate folk to the appropriate situation, but to suggest arbitrarily we take 80 positions that were designated as police officers and turn them into unarmed mental health responders, I don’t understand the science of that,” Middleton said.
After hearing about the measures the police department is having to take to keep the streets patrolled, Middleton said it’s crucial they pass a pay increase for police officers so they can get these positions filled as soon as possible.
“Listen, I want folk to remain alive,” Middleton said. “I don’t want folk to be subjected to violence. I want us to be able as a government to send unarmed responders when it’s appropriate. But I also want us to be able to send the appropriate other responders if the situation should develop into something else.”
Durham city council is expected to hear a proposal to increase police officer pay on Jan. 6.
Once they hear the proposal, Middleton said they should be able to move forward with action quickly.
“I believe that it’s the will of the council that we can expect for action to be taken very soon,” Middleton said.