Local News

Durham Dials in to New Form of Community Policing

Posted October 17, 2007 9:40 p.m. EDT

— Durham County emergency officials this week began using a reverse-911 system as a community-policing tool in an effort to reach efficiently a broad number of people at once.

On Tuesday, about 4,000 residents in Durham's quiet northern neighborhoods received a phone message alerting them of a string of daytime break-ins. On Monday morning, about 250 residents received a message informing them about a homicide that recently occurred in their area.

The CodeRED Emergency System has been in place since last year when Durham County leaders implemented it following the October chemical fire that displaced thousands of Apex residents. Its original intent was to notify the community in the event of a crisis or a disaster.

But with its ability to disseminate about 60,000 messages an hour, officials say it takes less manpower and can be quicker in a situation where public safety is at risk. Other uses could include boil-water advisories, evacuations or information on missing children and most recently, water restrictions.

"It enables us to reach a lot more people, instead of having to go out knocking on doors, handing out fliers -- those types of things," said Durham Police Maj. B.J. Council.

The system delivers the message to either a live person or an answering machine and makes three attempts to connect to any number. But some who have received the calls think the system might send out the wrong message.

"It makes a lot of questions, and it does make you feel not as safe," said Durham resident Debbie Breuer.

Other, like Robin Rogers, say they like the idea of the calls because it makes them aware of a situation they might otherwise not be aware of. But Rogers, who received a call about the recent string of break-ins, would like to have more information.

"I was a little startled at first," she said. "I didn't know where it had happened. I didn't know whether it was the neighborhood behind me or this neighborhood or just in my ZIP code."

Durham County 911 director Jim Soukup said the idea behind the calls is to give out basic information and insist the calls should make people feel safer, knowing someone's watching out for them on the other end of the line.

The system does have some drawbacks, officials say. The system won't interrupt phone calls or dial-up Internet service.

And it is only available to residents and businesses who use landline phones whose numbers are publicly available. Those who use cellular phones or whose numbers are not listed, will not automatically receive calls.

They can, however, go online to the county's Web site and register for the alerts.