Transforming Public Safety to Address Structural Racism and Reduce Health Inequities

Project summary

The project team will conduct an evaluation of the process and community perceptions of the implementation of a novel alternative first responder program in Durham, North Carolina, on mental health and quality of life outcomes. The program will dispatch, through 911, teams of unarmed, skilled, and compassionate responders to provide in-person care for behavioral health, mental health, and quality of life related 911 calls that are non-violent and non-life threatening.

Research Question(s)

  1. What are community members’ experiences with and attitudes toward police and preferences for alternative responder interventions and does this differ when stratified by neighborhood and demographic characteristics?
  2. How satisfied are stakeholders and program participants with the alternative first responder program and how can impact be optimized?

Actionability

  • Provide Durham County decision-makers with an evaluation of the alternative first responder program early implementation to inform next steps for pilot program expansion and optimization.
  • Create guidance and best practice recommendations for other cities and regions that are considering implementation of alternative first responder programs and community safety departments on lessons learned and areas for refinement.

Racial Equity Implications

The first responder program was designed in partnership with the Durham Community Safety Department and Durham Beyond Policing, a group made up of Durham residents, primarily people of color, many of whom reside in areas of the city that are over-policed. In evaluating the implementation of this program, the project team will incorporate a critical participatory research approach that will center the experience of those with lived experiences in structural racism. Additionally, the team aims to understand community members’ perspectives, attitudes, and experiences to provide context for their analyses and to optimize program effectiveness that will ultimately help create ethical and practical guidance for municipalities that are considering implementation of alternative first responder programs.

Outcomes

Community members’ experiences with and attitudes toward police and preferences for alternative responder interventions (employing the Perceptions of Police Survey, which consists of twelve statements that measure individuals’ perceptions of police using a Likert scale); satisfaction with the alternative first responder program; change in the proportion of eleven call types that qualify for initial response in the DCSD program after program implementation.

Program fidelity outcomes include: 1) the total number of individuals who contacted emergency services, 2) the number of individuals who were referred to alternative first responder services; the reason for referral to alternative first responder services, 4) the number of individuals who were referred to follow-up services, and 5) the number of individuals who were successfully connected to follow-up services.

Methodology

Using a community-centered approach, the team will survey 800 residents in the city of Durham, oversampling in heavily policed, BIPOC communities about attitudes toward police, experience with law enforcement, and how to optimize alternatives to police interventions. To analyze the data, the team will conduct a series of “stats-in-action" analysis groups wherein preliminary results will be iteratively analyzed with community members that live in over-policed neighborhoods (n=30). In addition, the team will conduct a mixed-methods program evaluation consisting of interviews with individuals who received services from the Durham City Safety Department (n=20) and key stakeholders who deliver services (n=20), analyzed in concert with program fidelity data and observed changes to city service utilization over time.


Black hand holding a phone dialing 911
Grantee and Partner organizations

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
Durham Community Safety Department
Community Consultant

Grant status
In Progress
Principal investigators
Tonia Poteat, MMSc, MPH, PhD
Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, MA, MS, PhD
Start date
Award amount
$529,486
Duration
36 months

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