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Durham Short of Police Officers, Firefighters

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DURHAM — They protect us and work to keep us safe, but there aren't enough of them. Durham is short nearly 100 police officers and firefighters. Those that are on the job have to pick up the slack. That means extra hours and extra work.

The Durham Police Department is doing everything it can to fill dozens of patrol openings. It is advertising over the Internet. It is recruiting people coming out of the military.

The fire department is in a similar bind. Public safety experts say that the current work force is able to fight fires and crime in Durham, but both departments are feeling the squeeze of being understaffed.

Officer Kelly Green writes a speeding ticket. This is something he rarely has time to do while he patrols the streets of east Durham. This city's shortage of police officers is obvious to Green as he runs from one call to another during his 12 hour shift.

"A lot of what we do now is reactive instead of proactive," Green explains. "I don't have a whole lot of time to get out here and look for stuff being done. I have to respond to calls as they come in, after it has already been done. That gets to be very frustrating."

The Durham Police Department is short 49 officers. Recruiters are scrambling to fill all of the vacancies this year. New recruits spend 34 weeks in training before they can join other officers on the street. In the meantime, the shortage takes its toll.

"Our detectives have to carry a bit more of a load," says Lt. Col. Kent Fletcher, "and they don't get to spend the time that they need on investigations, often times. It's a lot more work on everybody."

Thirty-four recruits are training in the Durham Fire Department's academy. Even of all of them graduate in August, the department will still have seven openings. Fire stations are left sending more trucks with smaller crews to emergency calls.

"Normally we like to keep four," Captain Chris McDonald explains, "We have most of our trucks running with three now."

Both departments say they'd like to be overstaffed, hiring more officers and firefighters than they are budgeted for. That way, if anyone is injured or must be out of work, they'll still run on a full staff.

There's still a long way to go until both departments actually meet the number of employees to operate on a complete staff.


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