DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — The walls of the Durham Community Safety Department are covered in colorful post-its. Some of the notes contain ‘congratulations’ to the members of the 26-person HEART program, Durham’s crisis response program. Other notes are scribbled with reminders of needed resources, ideas for addressing current issues, and department goals.
“I will say that I love this job and I think it reflects throughout our department. We are very passionate about it,” explained Anise Vance, deputy director of the Durham Department of Community Safety.
Six months ago, the City of Durham was one of the first municipalities in the state to launch an unarmed first aid program. The pilot program called ‘CORAZÓN’ aims to free armed police officers from certain calls while offering more adequate resources for the management of problems related to mental health.
Since June, the team has grown to 26 staff members ranging from EMTs to administrators and physicians. Some of these people left emergency rooms or private therapy offices in the hope of making a bigger difference by addressing the root of their problems.
“One big thing is meeting people where they are and realizing that an emergency department is not going to be the answer to everything and we can’t expect the police to be the answer to everything,” said Jessica Laube, a HEART community member. safety clinic.
The program is taking a multi-pronged approach to add mental health resources to public safety. Medics will be integrated into the 911 call center, respond without officers, and complete follow-up calls.
Early data shows that the team has responded to more than 2,500 calls since June and the responses to the calls are increasing every month.
A large part of HEART’s response is dedicated to follow-up calls.
“We do a lot of that work in hopes that we can connect our neighbors to long-term care,” Vance explained. “That’s important to our neighbors and it’s also important to us as a city so that people who call 911 all the time are now sent to a place where they can get the right kind of support, the right kind of comprehensive services that we don’t necessarily can offer as a single department”.
Calls related to intrusions and mental health crises are also high on the team’s response list. About 15% of the calls handled by the team have been related to mental health crises or crisis call forwarding.
“Those moments of a mental health crisis can be devastating if they’re not handled with care and if they’re not approached with true love, compassion and concern for others going through that crisis,” Vance said.
Yet the team has handled everything from suicide attempts to domestic disputes to welfare checks.
Every call that HEART teams can handle alone means officers have less time to spend on issues they may not be the best fit to handle.
“Now police officers can focus on the job they’ve been trained to do and really find their passion,” Vance explained.
Community response teams have diverted around 800 police calls since June.
Early data also shows that the approach is safe with 0% of staff reporting the need for police backup due to security.
Of the people that HEART team members have interacted with, about half are in need of general medical support, behavioral health care and housing.
Laube said that in the short time the teams have been serving the community, they have been met with tremendous appreciation and response from Durham.
“I think people for a while have wanted to see what a different response looks like and to know what’s happening where they live, in their home and in their city. I think people are excited to know that they still have fire, EMS, police and now that they have another option available to them to respond when appropriate,” Laube said.
Currently, the equipment is limited in the place where it serves. Doctors are only answering calls in about a third of the city, but the staff hopes to expand.
In the coming months, joint response team medics will begin driving with officers. The department also expects to release data on the number of arrests and hospital transports being diverted due to the involvement of HEART individuals.
Going forward, Laube hopes that the department and its impact will continue to grow and have a positive impact.
“I think the success will be that we continue to grow. It will look like we will continue to meet the needs of our neighbors. It will be like building strong relationships with partners in the community so that we can meet the needs of our neighbors,” she said.
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