Durham police chief CJ Davis wants to hire more officers. Does the city need them?

The Durham Police Department has 547 sworn officers.

That’s average for a city of Durham’s size, according to 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data, Governing magazine reported.

Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis wanted to hire 72 more officers during the next three years. That plan has been scaled back, though. with City Manager Tom Bonfield proposing 18 new police officers in his recommended 2019-20 budget.

In an email, Davis said the department wants to put more patrol officers in “the most impacted areas where crimes have occurred” to “increase community engagement and visibility.”

The death of 16-year-old Duwayne Clay Jr. on Tuesday marked the 21st killing in Durham this year.

The city had as many homicides in the first five months of 2019 as were investigated in all of 2017, according to city statistics. There were 32 homicides last year.

Other violent crime is up, too.

The scaled-down hiring plan from Bonfield also aims to reduce police overtime, he said.

The department had about $1.3 million in overtime expenses in 2018, according to a recent audit. It found 28 officers were paid at least $10,000 in overtime, including 14 who made at least $20,000 in extra pay.

Salaries for police recruits in Durham start at about $37,000, according to online job posts. The initial hiring costs for the new officers could be about $850,000, including bonuses paid for completing Basic Law Enforcement Training and Advanced Law Enforcement Training courses.

Bonfield says the Police Department’s staffing requirements must be met.

“The shifts will be covered whether we add these 18 new officers or we offer overtime to cover them,” he said.

The new officers will be deployed in District 4 in a pilot program to change the department’s overall staffing and patrol model, Bonfield said. Officers will work 10 and a half hours per shift rather than the 12 they now work. The district’s day and night shifts would overlap in some cases.

District 4 generally lies south of the Durham Freeway from near downtown to beyond Interstate 40 and east of Fayetteville Road.

The Police Department schedules most of its officers on rotating 12-hour shifts. This model was developed in the 1950s by chemical giant Dupont, which manufactures products around the clock. It’s a mix of three or four days or nights, followed by three or four days or nights off. The work cycle lasts three weeks followed by seven consecutive days off before repeating. Many police departments, including in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, use this model or one like it.

Are more officers needed?

Some people in Durham say the city already has enough police officers and the money Bonfield wants to use to hire more could be used differently.

Nicole Netzel, who is on the Racial Equity Action Team of the People’s Alliance, spoke out against the Police Department’s request during the May 20 City Council meeting.

“We’re advocating not funding the additional police officers,” she said. “We want to advocate for investing in the social safety net. Groups like the Marshall Project and others say more cops don’t always equal less crime.”

Ten activist groups, led by the Durham Beyond Policing Coalition, recently sent a letter to the mayor and City Council with similar ideas. The letter also was signed by All Of Us Or None; BYP 100; Communities in Partnership; Jewish Voice for Peace, Triangle chapter; Sanctuary Beyond Walls; Southerners On New Ground; SpiritHouse and Harm Free Zone; UE 150 Durham City Workers Union; and Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Triangle chapter.

“We were troubled by the Durham Police Department’s request for public safety funds to be used to hire 72 new officers over the next three years,” the letter says. “Please say no to hiring any more law enforcement. We want our city funds to be used responsibly to increase access to resources and strengthen the community fabric in ways that build real, lasting safety.”

The coalition would like to see the City Council create a community-led safety and wellness task force, according to its letter. The groups also want more money spent on affordable housing and paying livable wages for all city workers rather than on more police.

What’s next

The Durham Beyond Policing Coalition will hold an event, “Our City, Our Budget, Our Song,” from 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday at North Star Church of the Arts at 220 W. Geer St. in Durham.

The Durham City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed city budget during its regular meeting at 7 p.m Monday in the council chambers at City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza.

Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.