Durham Beyond Policing members have earned major wins this year, including the launch of the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, the creation of the new Department of Community Safety, and the 10 to Transform Campaign collaboration with Durham for All.
Our position is clear — increasing police forces in our most vulnerable and under-resourced neighborhoods will not make us safer. The time for us to create the conditions for our collective safety and thriving is now. Early voting is underway, until October 30, and the municipal election is November 2. Please vote, and bring your people to the polls with you.
We believe in electing people who will work to sustain the gains we have made and move our city towards a future where safety is defined as conditions that allow all of us to live and thrive. We work for transformative justice and accountability. While we cannot endorse any candidate in Durham’s municipal election, we created a voter guide to present each candidate’s position on community safety in Durham, and for incumbents, to summarize how they have voted on recent decisions relatedto community safety.
Please share widely within your Bull City networks!
Visit dcovotes.com for info on how to get your vote on.
Congratulations for your part in building toward the Durham we all deserve during this year’s municipal budgeting process! You and about 1500 of our Bull City neighbors were active participants in the 10 to Transform campaign with Durham Beyond Policing Coalition and Durham For All. Most of us have never had a say in our unjust economic system but we dove right in and we learned together during this budget cycle. Let’s celebrate at the 10 to Transform cookout on Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 4-6pm (location soon, please wear mask). Friends and families abundantly welcome.
Our goal for Durham County was to divest 10% from the County budget for jails and policing and invest it into mental healthcare. Last night, Monday, June 14, 2021 was the County Commissioners vote (and next Monday, June 21st will be the City Council vote). The five County Commissioners voted to pass the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget last night and we are so proud of how your hard work throughout the 10 to Transform campaign was reflected in the outcome.
Your advocacy pushed the Board of County Commissioners to unanimously agree to increase spending on mental health, a line item that has stagnated for years, through a million dollar investment in mental health services.
You raised critical questions, finally bringing the Sheriff into a transparent conversation about his budget that he has avoided for so long. We see this as groundwork for reduction of the harms of the jail and policing, though we didn’t see the reallocation of 48 vacancies from the Sheriff’s department and jail to expand mental healthcare access to Durham residents that we hoped for.
In the final stretches, Sheriff Birkhead waged a serious counter-organizing campaign against the 10 to Transform campaign. His office wielded the full weight of his positional power to dismiss our lived experiences, misrepresented our campaign aims in media outlets, flexed his connections with colleagues writing on their powerful institutions’ letterheads on the Sheriff’s department’s behalf (he sent these letters to us), all while spending public resources generated through our collective labor.
His efforts cannot erase our participation or undo the truth. We still urgently need to disentangle the criminal legal system from mental healthcare. We still need the existing mental healthcare systems to be bolstered further. We still need new programs and services to provide the additional capacity necessary to shift completely away from the jail and get us all the care we need after an incredibly challenging year. There is a long journey ahead until we’re all free and our families and communities are reunited.
In this budget cycle your work on the 10 to Transform campaign laid the foundation for action from the Board of County Commissioners. Over the next six months they have committed to a study of the County’s crisis response system and County 911 calls and mapping of existing resources and gaps. We’ll organize toward greater progress when they revisit the question of divesting from policing and investing in mental health and wellness in January or February, 2022.
The County Commissioners missed the present opportunity to decrease encounters with armed law enforcement or reallocate positions from the jail and increase access to mental health emergency response and public health. But the budget they approved last night has many other progressive investments that will make a big difference in strengthening and stabilizing our communities. Victories we’re celebrating in this year’s County budget include: the biggest investment we’ve ever seen in Durham Public Schools, including a massive Durham Association of Educators victory– school nurses and counselors for every school (first step towards a rollout over the next three years); the immigrant and refugee service coordinator position (jointly funded, City and County); the tax assistance grant program; Durham PreK expansion; workforce training initiatives through Durham Tech (including funding for stipends and social support for students); two additional positions for Racial Equity work, and an expansion of the Bull City United peer-to-peer violence interrupters outreach program.
Though Durham didn’t receive everything we hoped for, together we made serious gains that would not have been possible without joining forces. Through you volunteering in phone banking, we had over 700 conversations with Black people and people of color in Durham. Of those, over 70% supported the demands of the 10 to Transform Campaign at the end of the conversation. Your signatures on our letters made a difference– we were able to meet with City and County officials and share that we had 1,181 signatures calling for divestment from policing and investment in mental health and compassionate crisis response. Whether you spoke truth to power at public hearings, submitted written public comments, or showed up for public events (campaign kick off on April 27th and town hall with County and City electeds on May 20th) your contribution showed our collective strength and named our shared vision.
For years, Durham Beyond Policing and Durham For All have been in deep conversations with thousands of Black and POC residents of Durham, over the phone or at our neighbors’ doors. The 10 to Transform campaign grew out of these conversations with Durham residents, particularly Black and POC communities, who are tired of living in fear. We are invested in and committed to building a movement that fights for our collective liberation and everyone’s undeniable right to safety, care, and belonging.
During the 10 to Transform campaign, in our conversations with electeds we heard loud and clear that fear of rising gun violence in Durham is preventing some of them from feeling enthusiastic towards building alternatives to policing. We mourn and grieve devastating deaths due to gun violence in our communities. We take this grief seriously and rely on existing research and evidence in addressing such an important issue. The myth that the uptick in crime or gun violence can be addressed by increased policing runs counter to the evidence: Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents police executives in the U.S. and Canada and compiles data across member cities, shared with The Daily Beast that their data shows violent crime increased in the first quarter of 2021, regardless of whether cities increased or decreased their police budgets.
Police and sheriff’s deputies do not prevent harm from occurring. While jails provide punishment and isolation from communities, they do not deter criminalized behavior. As put forth by crime experts at the University of Chicago and New York University, community institutions and care workers, such as public schools, libraries, recreation centers, social workers and therapists, are all associated with deterring criminalized behavior.
According to the Durham County Crisis Intervention Team, people suffering from mental health struggles often end up staying in Durham County Jail longer and more frequently than others. During a recent work session, Sheriff Birkhead described himself as Durham’s greatest mental health provider. If true, this is our collective failure. Therapeutic support and mental health crisis intervention must be available for Durham residents to access by calling mobile mental health care providers and gaining access to non-jailing facilities, rather than by calling the police or sheriff. We all deserve free or minimal cost access to high-quality mental healthcare as well as access to ongoing therapy and counseling in places that are safe and promote wellness, not punishment and disposability.
The most recent movement to divest from policing and invest in community care in Durham is now five years old. Every year since 2016, we have come forward to local governments with petitions, proposals, public comments and large-scale support for funding the institutions and resources that have a direct connection to public safety and wellness. We’ve made important strides together. We’ve established a Community Safety and Wellness Task Force connecting the city, county, and the public schools. We now have a Department of Safety and Wellness in our City government. We have increased investments in eviction diversion and ensured living wages for all city workers. The pandemic demonstrated more than anything the importance of mutual aid, mental healthcare, and care work to keep people alive and safe. We are asking you to help us build safety based on the model of our community institutions, not policing and jails.
We will continue listening to and inviting in poor and working class, Black and POC communities of Durham, honoring all the nuance, complexities, and beauty that our communities hold. As members of groups and organizations that supported and endorsed the Sheriff based on his progressive visions during his campaign, we will continue demanding transparency and justice.
Let’s keep up the good work! Save the date for the 10 to Transform cookout celebration on Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 4-6pm. To stay involved in future work with Durham For All, please become a member or join our email list. To stay involved in future work with Durham Beyond Policing, please become a member, sign up to receive our newsletter, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or make a donation to sustain the work.
Until we all get free,
AJ, Danielle, and Manju on behalf of Durham Beyond Policing coalition
Kaji, Nahid, Ociele, Shanise, and Anthony on behalf of Durham For All
Dear Board Chair Brenda Howerton; Vice Chair Wendy Jacobs; Commissioner Nida Allam; Commissioner Nimasheena Burns; and Commissioner Heidi Carter,
The memberships of Durham Beyond Policing and Durham For All have come together in our 10 to Transform campaign to improve living conditions for Durham County residents, centering Black, indigenous, immigrant, people of color residents, and poor and working class residents in our respective memberships and our communities. This year we urge the Durham Board of County Commissioners to reallocate a portion of last year’s County spending on policing and jails to mental health and wellbeing. In the past fiscal year, the County allocated $37,380,582 to the Sheriff’s department and $6,336,751 to Mental Health. Our 10 to Transform goal is to see the 2021-22 budget reflect 10% of County money budgeted within policing and jails reallocated to strengthen the care work in Mental Health.
We know the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on both City and County budgets and the Durham community as a whole, limiting funding for new hires and enacting hiring freezes throughout government departments. In the City, there are 60 vacant police officer positions in the Durham Police Department (DPD), which is over 10% of total officer positions. As part of our 10 to Transform campaign, we are currently urging the Durham City Council to relocate those 60 vacancies to a new Department of Community Safety and hire unarmed responders that can provide community members with the safety, wellness, and care we need in times of crisis. Similarly, we urge our Board of County Commissioners to relocate vacancies within deputy positions in the Sheriff’s Department so that 10% of the total personnel costs are moved into funding Mental Health and wellbeing.
In the case of mental health crises, Durham residents need ways to access compassionate care and skilled support around the clock. There are life-affirming alternatives that County Commissioners past and present have worked hard to put in place, and we would like to hear your priorities for strengthening mental health, preventative care, and human services as a whole. Especially in this pandemic period where most Durham residents have experienced unprecedented economic hardship and social isolation, this positive shift could offer a life-saving intervention.
Here at both Durham Beyond Policing and Durham For All, we are in the midst of difficult and honest conversations with Durham residents about the issues that matter most to them through weekly phone banks, online forums, and community organizing. In this work, we have learned that Durham residents are eager to vision beyond our reliance on policing and jails. We’d love to share more with you about what we are hearing as we talk with our neighbors.
Our next event is an Online Town Hall before your budget hearings and vote. Please save the date: Thursday, May 20th from 6-8pm. At the Town Hall, we will be discussing alternatives to policing, uplifting the voices of our community, and asking for your public commitment to our campaign request.
We would like to collaborate with our County Commissioners to build true safety, sustainability, and access to (unarmed) compassionate care for every Durham resident. We will reach out to schedule meetings with each of you to discuss this issue and hear your thoughts. From our hearts, thank you for everything you do for our County!
Manju & Shanise
Interim Executive Director
Durham Beyond Policing
Durham For All
- Are you interested in community organizing?
- Have you or someone you know been affected by harm, violence, policing, or the criminal justice system?
- Want to join a group to come up with real solutions to your community’s experiences with harm and violence?
- Must be a resident of East Durham
- Compensation: $100 per session
- Commitment: March-December 2023
- Ages 18-21 and people 50+
- Able to meet monthly between 5-8pm on weekends
- Childcare provided for meetings
- Must be a resident of East Durham
- We ESPECIALLY welcome Black, Brown, and People of Color (Latino/a/x)
Durham Beyond Policing’s commitment to abolition requires a deep belief in and reverence for people’s abilities to name our own problems and create our own solutions when provided the necessary resources. Through our Community Design work, we will create alternatives by asking the residents of Durham to call for what we really want and need. Along the way we will practice democratic participation and being in right relationship with each other. Ultimately we’ll join forces to shift power to the people.
Our Community Design project is based in the Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) framework. CPAR is an ethical choice that exposes and seeks to change existing power structures and inequalities within the community under study. It does so within a framework of smoothing out inequalities within the research structure.
We will roll out the Community Design Project within 4 Phases as followed:
- We will move through intensive planning to identify stakeholders, set intentions, brainstorm on which communities we desire to co-create with, and form our team, which will include a core committee of 25 Durham leaders, and Durham Beyond Policing membership and staff members who will help us shape our framework. We also identify desired outcomes in the process.
- During this Phase, we begin to shape the container, making considerations around accessibility, volunteer capacity, and logistics support.
- We begin reaching out to our potential core committee of 25 Durham leaders, and having conversations. We will also begin doing outreach to Community Researchers, based on which communities are most impacted by gun violence and policing in our city.
- We hold focus groups to begin understanding what critical needs residents of those communities are experiencing, and what they need/want to feel safer.
- We will listen and learn about what our city’s collective needs are, and co-design a significant alternative to policing, and transform our culture of safety and accountability in Durham.
- The best and most successful model will come from community deliberation and visioning of what will keep us all safe. We will work with members to build public consensus for the project we will create, particularly within our own communities— specifically, Black, Brown, immigrant, poor and working class, youth, elders, people with disabilities, LGBTQ*, women, trans, and gender nonconforming people. We will listen and learn about what our city’s collective needs are, and co-design a significant alternative to policing, and transform our culture of safety and accountability in Durham.
Want to get involved? Still have questions? Contact Us!
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This Sunday, May 15 from 10am-5pm, Youth Heal In Communities Not Cages coalition will be hosting a participatory workshop to practice important skills to help win the campaign against the expanded youth jail.
Register today by filling out this form right away! We need your presence.
This in-person training is free of cost; delicious lunch and snacks will be provided; and there will be childcare (with masking and distancing for children who are able to do so, for covid safety), in a wheelchair-accessible space in Durham. Wear comfortable clothing, bring a mask, and arrive at 9:45am ready to dive in. The workshop will be led by Ready the Ground Training Team.
Durham County government wants to build a majorly expanded $30 million youth detention center for children and youth ages 8-17. Almost all the children and youth currently locked up are Black and from lower income communities. Durham urgently needs youth wellness, mental healthcare, and fully funded public education to prevent children and youth from ending up in the system– not more beds in the youth jail. Thank you for participating in the fight to support youth wellness for all of Durham!
Please share this invitation with Durham residents you trust who might be interested, especially young people directly impacted by systems of punishment and incarceration and the adults who love them.
Since his run for office in 2017 Mayor Pro Temp Mark-Anthony Middleton has advocated for Durham to adopt ShotSpotter technology, yet another costly means of marking gun violence in Durham after it has already occurred. At the same time Councilmember Middleton has vocally opposed and voted against our community-rooted organizations’ attempts to request municipal investment toward preventative solutions or to push back against the gun violence enacted by the police in our neighborhoods.
ShotSpotter offered Durham a free six-month trial of its gunshot-detection system and Councilmember Middleton wanted our City Council to “… take that deal” (N&O, August 6, 2020) by installing sensors, basically sensitive microphones, around Durham neighborhoods to pick up sounds from the street that might be gunfire, and using the sensors to locate where the shots were fired, then sending the information to the Durham Police Department (this description of how Shotspotter’s Flex tech works from NY Times, March 17, 2015). The “deal”, it turned out, would be expensive and ineffective.
- ShotSpotter costs $65,000 to $90,000 per square mile per year, with an additional $10,000 per square mile one-time initiation fee according to their own website. The Shotspotter Flex microphones will automatically call the police to a scene when activated by sounds resembling gunshots, but is that a good thing? The arrival of armed law enforcement officers often heightens danger in situations that could be better addressed by experts in de-escalation. ShotSpotter is roaming the country trying to find cities to buy their product, and it is no surprise that they are offering a free trial gimmick.
- Despite ShotSpotter corporation’s aggressive resistance to transparency, in 2016 a Forbes tech reporter obtained ShotSpotter data directly from customer cities and learned that authorities dispatched by a ShotSpotter alert were many times unable to find evidence of gunshots. “When combined with police dispatch records that show what happened when officers responded to the alerts, a clear pattern emerges: lots of calls, but few tangible results. Of the thousands of ShotSpotter alerts in these cities, police were unable to find evidence of gunshots between 30%-70% of the time.”
- “It’s true that using ShotSpotter has led to arrests, including some where a ‘smoking gun’ isn’t a cliche, but an actual description of a crime scene. Police dispatch records show that these instances are exceedingly rare, however, amounting to about one percent of all calls. Many cities that pay for the technology thinking they will catch criminals in the act end up disappointed as a result.” “While officers are responding to more illegal gunfire, they rarely catch the shooter. And evidence that could be used to build a case and bolster a prosecution–such as shell casings left behind or witness testimony–isn’t often attributed to ShotSpotter in police or court records. The question now is whether the technology is worth the millions of dollars it’s costing taxpayers each year…”
- It is wrong and misleading to tell Durham neighborhoods reeling with grief as a result of gun violence that ShotSpotter technology will offer solutions. ShotSpotter technology, when functioning correctly, will call the police department (with or without the consent of the people present) and at very best the police will then use a combination of restraints and weapons to propel the person into a carceral system that has been proven to cause long-term harm to people and their families and communities.
- Durham residents deserve structural change and proven, proactive, and preventative solutions to the violence in our communities. We deserve responsible stewardship of our public resources. There are policing proponents who would look at the multitude of problems with Shotspotter and propose that we use the money to instead hire additional police officers, buy more surveillance cameras, and approve any request from the police department without inquiry or debate (so different from how requests are interrogated for city worker pay, public housing, youth programs, workforce development, eviction diversion, neighborhood improvement, or parks and recreation, for example). But incidents of gun threats and gun violence aren’t just happening inside communities, they are happening to communities– at the hands of the police. Durham police officers have gone so far as to use firearms to threaten children. The time is long overdue to turn towards more visionary planning and investment.
- Describing ShotSpotter technology as a means to curb gun violence feels like another attempt to undermine the work of community-members who fought to build an alternative to policing and surveillance in Durham through the Durham Community Safety & Wellness Task Force joint effort across City, County, and Durham Public Schools. We need alternatives that actually address the root causes of why violence and criminalized acts happen to begin with: unattended mental health crisis, poverty, housing instability, and untreated substance addiction. We’re interested in solutions that prioritize the holistic health of our people, and help us build towards keeping each other safe, through de-escalation and transformative interventions. Our elected and appointed officials should use our city’s resources towards results-driven solutions that move us toward trusting each other and not fear.
- Approving the “free trial” version of ShotSpotter would be an overwhelmingly regressive move, and would in fact, still cost our residents their safety and security. The paid version of the technology proposed for 3 square miles in East Durham in 2017 would have cost $235,000 (IndyWeek article, January 2020? 2019?). That same funding could be used over those same three square miles towards meeting the needs of those residents. The residents of those 3 square miles deserve a say in solutions that would prevent violence in the first place.
- Because the tech is expensive most cities limit the ShotSpotter sensors to a particular geographic zone, and because of structural racism over many decades, that zone is invariably a Black/ Brown neighborhood. Unless you are Charlotte and you purchased the tech with grant money in preparation for the DNC, in which case the ShotSpotter installation went downtown. When Charlotte, NC ended a contract with ShotSpotter in 2016, the Charlotte Observer reported that the memo from their City Manager and Council concluded: “…Based on its experience with the system, CMPD feels the return on investment was not high enough to justify a renewal.” We’ve seen Shotspotter implemented in Charlotte, NC, and it was so ineffective and costly that the city chose to not renew the contract. Durham has an opportunity to learn from that here.
- Chicago’s Office of the Inspector-General analyzed more than a year’s worth of Chicago Shotspotter data and concluded that Chicago Police Department responses to ShotSpotter alerts can seldom be shown to lead to investigatory stops which might have investigative value and rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime. Additionally, OIG identified evidence that the introduction of ShotSpotter technology in Chicago has changed the way some CPD members perceive and interact with individuals present in areas where ShotSpotter alerts are frequent. Specifically, OIG reviewed instances in which CPD members rely, at least in part, on a perceived aggregate frequency of ShotSpotter alerts in an area to form the basis for an investigatory stop or as part of the rationale for a pat down once a stop has been initiated. Additionally, better data on law enforcement outcomes from ShotSpotter alerts would be valuable to support the City’s future assessments of whether to extend, amend, or discontinue its contractual relationship with ShotSpotter.
“Our study of ShotSpotter data is not about technological accuracy, it’s about operational value,” said Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg. “If the Department is to continue to invest in technology which sends CPD members into potentially dangerous situations with little information––and about which there are important community concerns–– it should be able to demonstrate the benefit of its use in combating violent crime. The data we analyzed plainly doesn’t do that. Meanwhile, the very presence of this technology is changing the way CPD members interact with members of Chicago’s communities. We hope that this analysis will equip stakeholders to make well-informed decisions about the ongoing use of ShotSpotter technology.”
- ACLU: Four Problems with the ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection System https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/four-problems-with-the-shotspotter-gunshot-detection-system/
- ShotSpotter system summoned police to the scene and resulted in them killing 13-year old Adam Toledo in Chicago in March, 2021.
- There have been concerns about ShotSpotter corporation altering data in collaboration with police.
- According to data from the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications: 89% of ShotSpotter deployments in Chicago turned up no gun-related incident at all, and less than 5% of ShotSpotter alerts led police to a shooting or attempted shooting. The vast majority of shootings are also called in through 9-1-1 by residents. 86% of ShotSpotter deployments don’t produce any kind of police incident report, and there are more than 20,000 dead-end ShotSpotter deployments every year. On an average day in Chicago, there are more than 61 ShotSpotter-initiated police deployments that turn up no evidence of any crime, let alone gun crime.
“The groups say a study of Chicago police data found that over a nearly 22-month period ending in mid-April, almost 90% of ShotSpotter alerts didn’t result in officers reporting evidence of shots fired or of any gun crime. The technology is only used in 12 police districts with the city’s largest proportion of Black and Latino residents, which the groups say “inflates statistics about supposed gunfire in these communities, creating a faulty, tech-based justification for ever more aggressive policing.”
“These deployments create an extremely dangerous situation for residents, prompting unnecessary and hostile police encounters, and creating the conditions for abusive police tactics that have plagued Chicago for decades,” the groups wrote.
ShotSpotter, a California based company that produces the gunshot detection system, has contracts with over 100 police departments nationwide. In Chicago, it sent an average of 71.4 alerts to officers each day during the period studied, according to the court filing. That included the March 29 alert that led to the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago officer.”
“The court filing tells a different story: one of a system that prompts officers to race to scenes where they think they may encounter armed suspects and are thus more inclined to use lethal force. It says the ShotSpotter system — which the business says detects gunshots with “97% accuracy” — sent Chicago officers on an average of 61 “dead end” searches per day, possibly because it doesn’t accurately distinguish between shots and other loud noises, such as firecrackers and backfiring cars.
But the number of “dead end” searches does not address a reality in Chicago: People who fire guns often run away or, especially in a city where drive-by shootings are routine, gunmen are often blocks and even miles away by the time police arrive.
The system is especially dangerous in Chicago, according to the filing, because of the police department’s decades-long reputation for using unnecessary force.
“Residents who happen to be in the vicinity of a false alert will be regarded as presumptive threats, likely to be targeted by police for investigatory stops, foot pursuits, or worse,” the filing says.”
-PBS NewsHour, May 2021, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/groups-say-gunshot-detection-systems-unreliable-seek-review
MEMO ON TASERS AND USE OF FORCE.
TO: DURHAM CITY COUNCIL
FROM: DURHAM BEYOND POLICING COALITION
MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2020
Re: Proposal to Durham City Council for a “Taser Replacement Program” through a 5-year contract with Axon Enterprises, costing the City $626,910 .
Durham Police Department proposed to the Durham City Council to purchase 250 replacement TASER Conducted Energy Weapons (CEW) for Police Officers in the pre-tax amount up to, but not to exceed, $626,910. Durham Police Department claimed that TASER CEWs offer Police Officers a less lethal force option when lawfully attempting to control assaultive and combative individuals, and that the utilization of tasers has been proven to reduce civil liability costs, reduce both officer and citizen injuries, reduce workman compensation claims, and save lives. In the memo below, we provide evidence of the following:
- The available data on the physical and psychological impacts of Conductive Electrical Weapons (CEW) is extremely poor and often suffers from conflicts of interest with CEW manufacturers.
- CEWs can increase risk of injury for law enforcement officers.
- CEWs reduce detained people’s ability to hear, understand, and follow officers’ orders for an indeterminate amount of time.
- CEWs are disproportionately used against the most mentally and physically vulnerable members of the community.
- The use of CEWs by sworn officers is known to increase use-of-force events and in-custody deaths.
- All forms of law enforcement use-of-force are disproportionately experienced by Black people, other people of color, and people experiencing mental and behavioral health crises.
- The safety and efficacy claims made by Axon Enterprises about their CEW devices are contradicted by journalistic investigations into their use in the field.
In 2007, the Durham Police Department produced a ‘Taser Technology Report’ explaining the adoption of Tasers into their “use of force continuum.” 1 The report repeatedly emphasized “the department’s goal to achieve improved officer and citizen safety.” Their rationale for adopting Tasers (p.5) was as follows: “In the furtherance of DPD’s mission to protect life and property of Durham citizens, it is the stance of department administrators that officers should have every proven and reasonable tool at their disposal. Tasers, thus far, have proven to be a reliable less-than-lethal use-of-force option that has demonstrated the added value of reducing incidents of physical confrontations between officers and those who refuse to obey officers’ lawful commands. In addition, tasers have reduced the sometimes serious and long-term injuries suffered by officers and suspects involved in physical confrontations.”
Twelve years after this report, research presented here indicates that this endorsement is not accurate; its evidence undermines the conclusion that DPD use of Tasers improves community and officer safety. For this reason, the Durham Beyond Policing Coalition urges our Mayor and members of City Council to vote against authorizing the City Manager to execute a five-year contract in the pre-tax amount of $626,910 with Axon Enterprises for the TASER 60, TASER replacement program. We ask that those same funds be redirected to fund the development and implementation of a mobile mental healthcare support system in Durham, similar to the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets)/White Bird Clinic model in Oregon, which has saved its city $90 million and prevented the killing of people experiencing mental health crises by police answering 911 calls. Such a redirection of funds would improve care for Durham residents struggling with their mental health, would reduce police violence, and would result in significant cost savings for the City of Durham. It is also in line with the work of the Community-Led Safety and Wellness Task Force passed by the Durham City Council. We also urge the Durham City Council to review use of Tasers by the DPD since 2007.
(1) The available data on physical and psychological injuries caused by CEWs in the field is very poor.
CEWs were developed to reduce injury to officers and suspects in the field. Compared to firearms, research on CEWs has shown them to produce fewer fatal and non-fatal injuries compared to other types of use of force, including blunt force control (punches, kicks, batons) and firearms. 2–5
At the same time, scientific research on the physical effects of CEWs suffers from many significant limitations:
- Studies on the physical impacts of CEWs weapons overwhelmingly include populations of middle aged men, 6 (likely because these study populations are often police officers and police trainees).7 For this reason, the physical impacts of CEW injury on most members of the wider population are not well understood.
- There is no significant research on the impacts of CEW deployment against people with mental illness and how this may affect their health or treatment trajectories. However, we do know that people experiencing mental health crises overwhelmingly do not want a police response.8 Further, use-of-force practice as minor as restraining with handcuffs on individuals living with mental illness can produce a deep distrust of law enforcement that is still measurable years after a single cuffing event.9
- There is no research on the psychological or neurological impacts of being shot with a CEW – either from the sheer physical impact (measurable in someone who consents to being shot with a CEW in a research study) or the traumatic experience of being shot with a CEW in real life.
A significant portion of the scientific research on CEW use (and the research on TASER devices specifically) suffer from conflict of interest, in which researchers publishing studies and commentaries have financial interests in TASER International.10
(2) CEWs can increase the risk of injury to law enforcement officers.
One of the only scientifically robust and methodologically rigorous controlled trials of the effects of CEW on policing found that equipping sworn officers with CEWs not only led to a statistically significant increase of 23% in use-of-force incidents department-wide (the increase was by 48% among officers carrying CEWs) in general, and resulted in the number of attacks against officers doubling among those equipped with CEWs. The researchers concluded: “ The visual cue of a TASER in police–public interactions leads to aggression,” serving as a “hostility cue” during intervention.11
(3) CEWs reduce people’s ability to hear, understand, and follow officers’ orders.
A large study that assessed the impact of CEW on 142 healthy young adults found significant decreases in participants’ ability to remember or understand auditory information (such as spoken words, phrases, questions, and demands) for up to an hour after receiving a shock from a CEW device. The researchers who conducted this study indicated that these lapses could seriously interfere with the ability of a person shot with a CEW to hear and respond to the commands of a law enforcement officer and to comprehend Miranda rights if they are read while the suspect is still experiencing these cognitive effects of the CEW.12
(4) CEWs are disproportionately used against the most mentally and physically vulnerable members of the community.
Studies have shown that CEWs are used more often:
- Against people living with mental illness. Globally, CEWs are deployed in 28% of all police encounters with people experiencing mental distress.13 In one study that reviewed all CEW deployments in a single police department over a 6 year period found that 48% of CEW targets had a history of mental illness and 75% had a history of substance use.2
- Against people who are under the influence of stimulants.14 In fact, mental illness and stimulant use are synergistic risks for CEW injury: people with mental illness who are under the influence of stimulants (a strategy commonly used by people with mental illness to self-medicate in the absence of meaningful mental and behavioral health services) receive on average 3-4 times as many shots with a CEW during a single law enforcement intervention as a person with neither of these characteristics.14
- In people who are male with larger BMI, regardless of age, even those as young as 9 years old.2
(5) Equipping police with CEWs is associated with more use of force incidents.
CEWs have been demonstrated to worsen certain long-standing problems with use of force by law enforcement officers. A recent study of more than 50 major law enforcement agencies found that the number of firearm fatalities INCREASED 240% and the number of all in-custody deaths INCREASED 640% in the 12 months after officers were equipped with CEWs.15
6) All forms of law enforcement use-of-force is disproportionately experienced by Black people, other people of color, and people experiencing mental and behavioral health crises.
African Americans, American Indian/Alaskans, and Latinx men are killed disproportionately to white peers in a law enforcement officer’s calculation of “use of force.”16 Between 2010 and 2014, an examination of 2285 federal death certificates revealed that the rate of Hispanic deaths at the hands of law enforcement were 1.7 times higher and Blacks deaths 2.8 times higher, respectively, than the rate of white deaths at the hands of law enforcement.16 According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death by firearm in the context of police interaction is among the top 20 causes of death among these groups from 15-34 years old between 2000 and 2018, and the 10th cause of death for Black people from ages 15-24.17
Further, a study of escalation of force by officers in one large urban police department found that Black and Latinx suspects faced higher levels of force in earlier stages of their interactions with the police, making escalation quicker, more likely and more volatile among Black, indigenous and Latinx people.18
Reported rates of injury resulting from law enforcement intervention are also significantly higher among Black people and other people of color compared to whites. Data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All Injuries Program found 683,033 civilian injuries incurred during law enforcement intervention that were subsequently treated in emergency rooms. Of these known injuries, 35.9% were reported in white patients and 44.6% in Black patients—despite whites representing 59.7% and Blacks 14.1% of the U.S. population.19 Though already quite stark, further research indicates these numbers underestimate the disparity, as a review of all civilian injuries resulting from law enforcement intervention in Indianapolis, IN and Wichita, KS found that white people were 30-40% more likely to have their injuries reported than their Black peers—and that 25% more non-white people sustained injuries that should have resulted in transportation to the hospital, but did not.20
Studies conducted among individuals living with severe and persistent mental illness reveal even greater disparities in law enforcement response and use of force against these individuals. A foundational, longitudinal study of 172 people living with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder found that these individuals were 14 times more often victims of violence, yet 48% of these people had encounters with police.21 A more recent study found that more than 65% of individuals living with mental illness who experienced arrest were detained in connection to crimes against public order, not for criminogenic behavior.22 An analysis of discharge records from Illinois state hospitals between 2000 and 2009 found that individuals treated for police-related interventions had higher odds of living with various forms of substance abuse or issues such as depression or schizophrenia.23
Collectively, this data indicates a wide-spread pattern of law enforcement use of force that is disproportionately applied more frequently, escalated more quickly, and applied more harshly producing more severe injuries among Black, indigenous, Hispanic populations, and populations of individuals living with mental illness or experiencing emergent mental distress.
(7) Investigative reports in the media contradict Axon’s own claims about its TASER devices.
The TASER devices for which the Durham City Council is considering a five year contract are from AXON Enterprise INC, which has a monopoly on the American market. AXON, its slogan “Protect Life,” has long promoted their line of CEWs as a safe alternative to firearms that delivers between 80% and 97% percent efficacy in subduing suspects who are violently resisting arrest. A recent report from a year-long investigation by American Public Media, titled “When Tasers Fail ,” directly contradicts these claims:
Data from some of the largest police departments in the nation reveals that officers rate their Tasers [sic] as effective as little as 55 percent of the time, or just a little better than a coin flip. When Tasers fail to subdue someone, the results can be life-threatening — for police, and especially for the public. APM Reports found more than 250 fatal police shootings nationwide between 2015 and 2017 that occurred after a Taser failed to incapacitate a suspect. In 106 of them, the suspect became more violent after receiving the electrical shock, according to a review of case files and media reports, suggesting the Taser may have made a bad situation worse. Police end up shooting someone after their Tasers prove ineffective.24 [emphasis added].
Reports from Amnesty International concur with these findings, leading this organization to submit a formal statement of concern to the U.S. Department of Justice. They write:
…[We have] serious concerns about the use of electro-shock devices [CEWs] in law enforcement, both as regards their safety and their potential for misuse. Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse, as our organization has documented in numerous cases around the world.25
The findings presented throughout this memo are further supported by a comprehensive report conducted by Reuters, which found that, as of 2018, Black individuals are more likely to die from the use of a CEW and that over half of the 1,000+ fatalities associated with the use of a CEW as were “vulnerable” people, mostly people struggling with mental health crises.
We have to look no further than the recent brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin that the “use of force” continuum that justifies use of Tasers is dangerously wrong. The Hill reported: “Authorities in Wisconsin said Friday that two police officers at the scene deployed stun guns when attempting to arrest Jacob Blake before [Kenosha, Wis., police officer Rusten Sheskey] shot the 29-year-old [Black man] multiple times in the back. ….Officials said that [Officer Vincent] Arenas and Sheskey, a seven year veteran of the Kenosha PD, both deployed stun guns at Blake but they were ‘unsuccessful’ in stopping him. Blake then went around his car, opened the driver’s side door and leaned in when Shekey fired on him seven times, theWisconsin DOB said Friday.” Given that Tasers deploy 50,000 volts in five-second bursts, these two shots would have significantly disoriented Jacob Blake, yet they were followed by the police officer’s escalation of force to the most lethal degree in the most lethal amounts.
Rather than provide city money to support tools that perpetuate police escalation of force, the Durham City Council should reallocate the $626,910 that would be spent over five years on Tasers to the mental health services described above and so greatly needed and required for Durham’s people, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, Durham Beyond Policing Coalition recommends that these funds be reallocated to the initial steps towards establishing a mobile mental healthcare dispatch center in Durham, similar to the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets)/White Bird Clinic model.
Durham Beyond Policing is a grassroots coalition to divest from policing and prisons and reinvest municipal resources into supporting the health and wellbeing of Black & Brown communities, benefiting all community members in Durham, NC. Durham Beyond Policing Coalition organizations include All Of Us Or None Durham chapter; BYP100 (Black Youth Project) Durham Chapter; Communities in Partnership (C.I.P); Jewish Voice for Peace – Triangle chapter; Sanctuary Beyond Walls; SONG (Southerners On New Ground) Durham chapter; SpiritHouse Harm Free Zone; UE 150 Durham City Workers Union; Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)- Triangle chapter; and other Durham County residents.
This document was shaped, co-authored, and reviewed by a volunteer team of Durham resident members of the above organizations.
Please direct any questions regarding this memo to Kyla Hartsfield at email@example.com.
- Taser Technology Report. Published online 2007. Accessed August 30, 2020. https://durhamnc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2157/DPD-Taser-Technology-Report-PDF
- Strote J, Walsh M, Angelidis M, Basta A, Hutson HR. Conducted electrical weapon use by law enforcement: an evaluation of safety and injury. J Trauma . 2010;68(5):1239-1246. doi:10.1097/TA.0b013e3181b28b78
- Jenkinson E, Neeson C, Bleetman A. The relative risk of police use-of-force options: evaluating the potential for deployment of electronic weaponry. J Clin Forensic Med. 2006;13(5):229-241. doi:10.1016/j.jcfm.2005.11.006
- Stevenson R, Drummond-Smith I. Medical implications of Conducted Energy Devices in law enforcement. J Forensic Leg Med . 2020;73:101948. doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2020.101948
- Kornblum RN, Reddy SK. Effects of the Taser in fatalities involving police confrontation. J Forensic Sci . 1991;36(2):434-438.
- Becour B. Conducted electrical weapons or stun guns: a review of 46 cases examined in casualty. Am J Forensic Med Pathol . 2013;34(2):142-146. doi:10.1097/PAF.0b013e31828873d6
- VanMeenen KM, Cherniack NS, Bergen MT, Gleason LA, Teichman R, Servatius RJ. Cardiovascular evaluation of electronic control device exposure in law enforcement trainees: a multisite study. J Occup Environ Med . 2010;52(2):197-201. doi:10.1097/JOM.0b013e3181cc58ba
- Boscarato K, Lee S, Kroschel J, Hollander Y, Brennan A, Warren N. Consumer experience of formal crisis-response services and preferred methods of crisis intervention. Int J Ment Health Nurs . 2014;23(4):287-295. doi:10.1111/inm.12059
- Krameddine YI, Silverstone PH. Police use of handcuffs in the homeless population leads to long-term negative attitudes within this group. Int J Law Psychiatry . 2016;44:81-90. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2015.08.034
- O’Brien AJ, Thom K. Police use of TASER devices in mental health emergencies: A review. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 2014;37(4):420-426. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2014.02.014
- Ariel B, Lawes D, Weinborn C, Henry R, Chen K, Sabo HB. The “Less-Than-Lethal Weapons Effect”—Introducing TASERs to Routine Police Operations in England and Wales: A Randomized Controlled Trial: Criminal Justice and Behavior . Published online December 19, 2018. doi:10.1177/0093854818812918
- Kane RJ, White MD. TASER® Exposure and Cognitive Impairment. Criminology & Public Policy. 2016;15(1):79-107. doi:10.1111/1745-9133.12173
- Hallett N, Duxbury J, McKee T, et al. Taser use on individuals experiencing mental distress: An integrative literature review. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs . Published online January 19, 2020. doi:10.1111/jpm.12594
- Bailey CA, Smock WS, Melendez AM, El-Mallakh RS. Conducted-Energy Device (Taser) Usage in Subjects With Mental Illness. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online. 2016;44(2):213-217.
- Lee BK, Vittinghoff E, Whiteman D, Park M, Lau LL, Tseng ZH. Relation of Taser (electrical stun gun) deployment to increase in in-custody sudden deaths. Am J Cardiol . 2009;103(6):877-880. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2008.11.046
- Edwards F, Lee H, Esposito M. Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity, and sex. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA . 2019;116(34):16793-16798. doi:10.1073/pnas.1821204116
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Published 2020. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcause.html
- Kahn KB, Steele JS, McMahon JM, Stewart G. How suspect race affects police use of force in an interaction over time. Law Hum Behav . 2017;41(2):117-126. doi:10.1037/lhb0000218
- Feldman JM, Chen JT, Waterman PD, Krieger N. Temporal Trends and Racial/Ethnic Inequalities for Legal Intervention Injuries Treated in Emergency Departments: US Men and Women Age 15–34, 2001–2014. Journal of Urban Health . 2016;93(5):797-807. doi:10.1007/s11524-016-0076-3
- Lewis S, Bueno de Mesquita B. Racial Differences in Hospital Evaluation After the Use of Force by Police: a Tale of Two Cities. J Racial Ethn Health Disparities . Published online May 19, 2020. doi:10.1007/s40615-020-00742-6
- Brekke JS, Prindle C, Bae SW, Long JD. Risks for individuals with schizophrenia who are living in the community. Psychiatr Serv . 2001;52(10):1358-1366. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.52.10.1358
- McCabe PJ, Christopher PP, Druhn N, Roy-Bujnowski KM, Grudzinskas AJ, Fisher WH. Arrest types and co-occurring disorders in persons with schizophrenia or related psychoses. J Behav Health Serv Res . 2012;39(3):271-284. doi:10.1007/s11414-011-9269-4
- Holloway-Beth A, Forst L, Lippert J, Brandt-Rauf S, Freels S, Friedman L. Risk factors associated with legal interventions. Inj Epidemiol . 2016;3(1):2. doi:10.1186/s40621-016-0067-6
- Gilbert C, Caputo A, Hing G. Tasers are less reliable than their maker has claimed. The results can be deadly. Published May 19, 2019. Accessed August 25, 2020. https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2019/05/09/when-tasers-fail
- Amnesty International. Amnesty International’s Concerns about Taser use; Statement to the US Justice Department inquiry into deaths in custody. Published online 2007. Accessed August 24, 2020. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AMR511512007ENGLISH.pdf
Policing is a system committed to Black death and disposability. It must end, and we must invest instead in community care, accountability, and transforming harm.
Yet on June 15, following two weeks of global uprisings prompted by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and over 4000 public comments in opposition to Durham’s police budget, the City Council voted unanimously to spend nearly $70M of our resources on the police. That sum represents a 5% increase in the police budget from last year and 1/3 of the city’s General Fund.
At that same meeting, the Council approved $1M for the expenses and as yet undetermined outcomes of the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, which they voted for last year following a proposal by Durham Beyond Policing. But the $1M was undercut by Council’s decision to cut essential resources to our city workers and larger community. The Task Force cannot work properly if the city defunds the very people it wants to keep safe.
City Manager Tom Bonfield reported that the city faces $12M in budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many city workers— who clean our streets, collect our garbage, and drive our buses —that meant their scheduled raises under the new Step Pay Plan were unfunded. City retirees face a 20% decrease in their health insurance funds.
For the police, the budget shortfall changed nothing. As part of their 5% raise, the police department will form a city-county gang unit, authorizing the police and sheriff’s departments to surveil and capture people they suspect to be gang members. The previous experiences of this city in the 2000s, along with studies of similar efforts across the country, demonstrate that gang units are set up for broad scale racial profiling and violence against Black people, with no benefit to public safety.
At the June 1 budget hearing, the Council and mayor praised Durham Police Chief CJ Davis for exercising “restraint” against the protestors gathered downtown, for setting a shining example of good policing. But choosing not to brutalize and jail protestors is not remotely the same as creating safety. When we can’t take for granted that police won’t incite violence, their commitment to safety is meaningless. Lest we forget, Chief Davis has many stolen Black lives to account for since her appointment in 2016. Among them are Kenneth Bailey, Jr., Frank Clark, Ondrae Hutchinson, and Shaun Christy, not to mention the untold stories of harassment of Black women and girls at the hands of the police. In 2016, Frank Clark’s partner, Jasmine Lloyd, said that Charles Barkley, the officer who killed Clark, harassed her since she was 12 years old.
A Black police chief does not make policing less harmful or anti-Black. Neither will anti-chokehold policies, anti-bias training, community policing, or other reforms.
Systems of care will not end anti-Blackness by themselves. But ending anti-Blackness has no hope under punitive systems rooted in fear, brutality, and wellness services, and first responders —medics, counselors, mediators—intervening to reduce harm, not to escalate and isolate. “Public safety” means systems of care on the front end and accountability through transformative and restorative justice practices at the back end.
“We keep us safe” is far more than a slogan. In just the last few months, our communities have been physically distant, but socially committed to our survival through mutual aid and grassroots networks of care. We keep us safe in ways that the police always promise, but never deliver.
By Quran Karriem, Quisha Mallette, and Lewis Wallace, of Durham Beyond Policing Coalition
In this time of fear and uncertainty, we’ve seen states including Illinois, California, and New York institute lockdowns, or shelter-in-place policies. Here in Durham, Mayor Schewel issued a ‘stay-at-home’ order on March 25th, similar to the one issued by Mecklenberg county. We should think carefully about how a policy intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 can be implemented in the most equitable way possible. On the state level, Governor Cooper has imposed orders to reinforce social distancing, which hasn’t to date involved police enforcement. We insist that curfews, shelter-in-place and ‘stay-at-home’ policies are only as effective as the social and economic supports that make it possible for working class people to fairly and reasonably follow them. Police and the military should not be deployed to enforce these mandates. If someone is not staying at home, it is worthwhile to ask why. A stay-at-home policy must also be accompanied by a communications plan for widespread, consistent, accessible, and multilingual messaging about how the stay-at-home commitment benefits everyone.
If we truly want to slow the spread of COVID-19, we have to view it as a shared problem, which means we have to truly collectivize the benefits of society. We must demand that the payments to individuals as being proposed by Congress increase and continue as a matter of course, and that they be provided to everyone regardless of employment, immigration, or housing status. We must suspend rent and mortgage payments, nationalize utilities, and fundamentally rethink our relationships to local and global economies. Homeless community members must be provided safe and adequate shelter. Evictions and foreclosures must stop, student debt must be forgiven. People must be released from jail, prison, and detention. Public safety is paramount in this time, and conditions on the ground should make it clear that public safety is best held by the collective, not by law enforcement.
A lockdown or similar order generally requires individuals to stay at home unless attending to “essential” business, and holds the force of law. For example, in California, curfew violations are punishable by “fine, imprisonment, or both.” Either form of enforcement would be harmful and both ignore the fact that, for those who don’t have the privilege of a home address, sheltering in place would mean staying on the streets, risking exposure to themselves and to response workers. The Durham order states that “individuals experiencing homelessness are exempt from this directive.” In the press conference announcing the order, Mayor Schewel mentioned that the city was working on solutions but has not yet specified details.
Anticipating public anxiety regarding certain terminology, some states and municipalities are avoiding terms like ‘curfew’ or ‘lockdown’ and softening the rhetoric and enforcement of such measures with the idea of a ‘shelter-in-place’ or ‘stay-at-home’ where a police officer’s role might be to create ‘teachable moments’ where they “explain to people the importance of following the health guideline.” Continued public education on COVID-19 is necessary, but police officers are not suitable for this role.
In most cases, whether such a policy is called a ‘curfew’ or a ‘shelter-in-place,’ the deployment of law enforcement personnel ultimately implies the threat of fines and imprisonment. The Durham order mandates that all sworn officers enforce its provisions, and Mayor Schewel suggests that they do so through orders to disperse rather than through fines and imprisonment, unless there is “a continuous or egregious offense.” However, an individual officer may determine whether a given offense is ‘continuous’ or ‘egregious’, which could result in ramped-up racial profiling and biased targeting of Black and brown people.
The notion of police officers issuing curfew violation tickets during a time of economic crisis is concerning. Thousands of people in the service industry and similar fields have been laid off following the most recent state restrictions on COVID-19, making many of our friends and neighbors financially vulnerable. With an economic forecast this severe, it seems likely that those of us most unable to pay a fine would be amongst those most often fined. Jail or prison as punishment for violation of a curfew is potentially dangerous to collective safety, as Dr. Amanda Klonsky argued in a recent op-ed in the New York Times. It is conceivable that a curfew violator, if imprisoned, might be more likely to contract and spread COVID-19 during their incarceration and release than through the act of the curfew violation itself.
Finally, we would guess that many people who are disregarding the social distancing recommendations are doing so from a place of necessity. It is kinder, smarter and more cost effective to help marginalized people get their needs met than to criminalize them for endangering themselves and the public good. Mere sympathy and acknowledgement of the economic difficulty caused by the pandemic are inadequate governmental responses. We also acknowledge that there are those violating the best prevention practices out of denial. We urge residents of North Carolina to affirm adherence to these practices—we neighbors can be a united force of up-to-date information, the best public health practices, and our love and commitment to one another and to a North Carolina for all. We urge all our communities to join this voluntary force for the common good, and to demand that any state or municipal ‘stay-at-home’ orders be accompanied by the economic security that makes adherence to such a policy possible for all of us.