Letter to Durham County Commissioners 2021-22 budget fightback

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!

Warmest regards,
Manju & Shanise

Manju Rajendran
Interim Executive Director
Durham Beyond Policing

Shanise Hamilton
Community Organizer
Durham For All