Fallout over troubled probation system

December 17, 2008 3:03:44 PM PST
Some community leaders are outraged after learning millions of dollars earmarked for new field officers will not be spent in Durham.Durham County, along with Wake, was highly criticized after the brutal murders of two Triangle college students.

When the Durham office was reorganized it gained four new positions, but none of them are field officers --which is part of the problem according to Durham city leaders.

After two suspects on probation were accused of killing two college students, the public outcry prompted state leaders to spend millions on 29 new field officers.

Those vacancies were just posted Tuesday. The delay is only half the problem according to Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown.

Despite letters to the state begging for help in Durham County, more than a dozen counties will get new probation officers --including nine in Wake County-- but none for the Bull City and the surrounding area.

"I'm puzzled, upset, frustrated," Brown said. "A decision should be based on need. We have a need in Durham. I want to know who made the decision."

The new officers are assigned based on case load.

John Lee oversees Durham's community corrections. Long before lawmakers earmarked millions for new officers, the Durham office gained four new positions when it was reorganized.

Lee says it's holding its own without additional field officers.

"We could use some additional administrative help," Lee said. "We have a lot of different things to keep up with and that would relieve people such as myself."

The greatest need, according to Lee, is filling six current vacancies within the Durham office and getting new hires trained.

"Yes, more improvements need to be made," he said. "It's a constant ongoing process and we're diligently working on that every day."

But every day, community leaders fear safety is being compromised. They'd rather see more officers on the street.

"The state has become part of the problem and not the solution," Brown said. "They are putting the citizens in harm's way."

Instead of new officers, Durham will receive about $200,000 to purchase new radios for its officers in the field.


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