Have a Heart: Durham Beyond Policing’s successful campaign to expand unarmed crisis response in Durham
In March 2023, Durham Beyond Policing launched the Have a HEART campaign to call for the expansion of Durham Community Safety Department’s HEART Program. The HEART (Holistic Empathetic Assistance Response Team) Program, launched in June 2022, is a community response, crisis call diversion, and care navigation program. HEART teams consist of a social worker, EMT, and peer-responder.
The HEART Program, while in its pilot year and only covering one third of the city for one half of the day, was an unequivocal success. By May 2023, the program had already diverted more than 2,000 911 calls from law enforcement, averaging to about seven per day. Data shows that the HEART responders felt safe 99% of the time and have never had to call police to the scene for backup.
Durham Beyond Policing organized its members and the city at large to demand the expansion of the program to be fully funded, city-wide, and 24/7. The Have a HEART campaign involved months of canvassing to local businesses and residents, organizing speak-outs and rallies at city council, press conferences, meetings with elected officials, and distributing the Have a HEART yard signs that proliferated throughout the city.
Following months of dedicated work from Durham Beyond Policing and continued excellence from the HEART Program, the city of Durham has approved its 2023-2024 budget to include the expansion of the HEART Program. With a $2 million investment, the pilot program will grow by 150% with 27 new openings. This will allow the service to expand citywide and be available 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Thanks to this win and the tireless organizing from Durham Beyond Policing that made it possible, Durham residents will have greater access to unarmed, holistic crisis response and care. With the understanding that police escalate crises and inflict violence on Black, brown, LGBTQ, poor, and disabled people, the expansion of the HEART Program is a life-saving win.
Durham Beyond Policing remains diligent in working with the Mayor, the City Manager, and City Council over the next three years to gain full expansion and 24/7 access to care. Within the next three years, there is hope to see the Community Safety Department launch a 24-hour direct phone line, in addition to the access currently held through 911 call operators. DBP is also seeking Durham County and Durham Board of Education to take steps to expand HEART access to reach all county residents and the public school system.
Cornell Watson for The Assembly