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Durham Police Chief Tries To Hold Department Together In Midst Of Dispute

Posted December 16, 2003

— While the Durham City Council ponders police pay, Chief Steve Chalmers is left trying to hold his department together.

"Certainly as it relates to pay progression, we have some problems in the city of Durham," Chalmers said.

Armed with signs and flexing strength in numbers, 130 officers lined the street outside City Hall Monday night to make their point and force the pay-raise issue to the forefront of the City Council meeting.

Andy Miller, president of the local Police Benevolent Association, asked the council to give officers a 15-percent pay raise instead of the 2-percent raise already approved.

He said a raise is needed to stop the flow of officers leaving Durham for more money at other agencies.

"We are in a crisis mode," Miller said. "We need to fix it, and we need to fix it now. What better time to fix something than when you have the money to do so?"

Miller referred to the $1.8 million the city saved unexpectedly this year. A 15-percent raise would cost the city $2.9 million.

In the last six months, more than 20 officers have quit in Durham.

Officers still on the force said Tuesday that the shortage is showing. They would not talk with WRAL on camera, but off-camera, they said the department is no longer capable of adequately patrolling the city, and response times have slowed as a result.

Chalmers said safety is not an issue -- yet. But he admitted the staff shortage is taking its toll.

"Certainly, we do have to be more creative in the way we patrol and the way we do business," he said.

Community activist Barbara Lofton said she has seen the crime rate decline in recent years. She is worried that trend could be reversed.

"If we lose the police, people will come back with drugs, prostitution, all this shooting in your house," Lofton said.

The officers' quiet rally Monday night got the attention of city manager Marcia Connor.

"We will be bringing forward a proposal for council consideration at our Jan. 9 work session," she said.

Mayor Bill Bell said a solution may be months away.

"We're going to try to do what's right," Bell said, "and I'm assuming they'll give us the time to make that happen. The city isn't going to turn over because we have a pay issue; we've got time."

That may depend on how many more officers leave while the council tries to figure out how to keep them.


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