After nearly three months in operation, the Durham Community Safety Department’s new Holistic Empathic Assistance Response Teams pilot programs have reduced more than 800 interactions with law enforcement.
The HEART pilot programs were launched in late June to provide unarmed response alternatives to 911 crisis calls. As of September 26, they had responded to 805 calls across their three programs – Emergency Call Diversion, Response Teams Community and Care Navigation.
These calls, which previously would have gone to Durham law enforcement, are now going directly to HEART staff. This diversion allows for a more efficient allocation of police resources as they can now “refocus on other areas that may involve violent crime or criminal activity,” according to Sanford ’14 and Durham Community Safety Department Director Ryan Smith. .
The HEART pilot programs were launched a year after the Department of Community Safety was established in 2021. The goal of this new department was to increase public safety while reducing reliance on police intervention and the justice system criminal.
One such program is the Emergency Call Diversion Pilot Project. This program integrates mental health clinicians with Durham’s 911 call center to avoid police involvement unless necessary. Over the past three months, this program has responded primarily to mental health crisis calls or follow-ups.
The Community Response Teams pilot project sends teams of three unarmed responders – a licensed mental health clinician, a peer support specialist and a paramedic – to the scene of non-violent or behavioral mental health 911 calls . So far, this program has been used primarily for trespassing, mental health crises, and welfare check calls.
The third of the nested programs is the Care Navigation service, which provides follow-up 48 hours after the reported crisis. This service then connects people to the care they need after the event. The Care Navigation service has been in contact with 117 people asking for help.
A fourth program, called the Co-Response Pilot, pairs clinicians with police department officers.
“They will respond to some higher acuity calls, where weapons may be present,” Smith said.
According to Smith, the programs have proven to be very effective in diverting 911 calls away from any law enforcement response. Under the Community Response Teams pilot project, more than three-quarters of all calls were diverted from the police response, and almost half of all calls were directed to the emergency call diversion program could be resolved without any in-person contact.
Although the department responded to more than 800 calls, “that doesn’t reflect all of the demand,” Smith said. By the end of September, the HEART pilot programs covered only a small geographical plan, largely covering central County Durham.
Over the past three months, staff have been inundated and only able to answer 805 of 6,902 eligible calls, or just over 11%, as of September 26.
Expansion efforts have been made so that HEART staff can respond to a greater percentage of calls. For the first few weeks of the CRT program, it operated with only one shift Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It recently expanded to include a second shift that operates seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. :00 a.m.
“We need time to learn and evaluate,” Smith said. “The hope is that these things will be readily available to all residents.”
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