Mayors’ Education Advisors Focus on Equity and Student Success

Amid the first hot days of summer, and in the recent aftermath of social and economic unrest that roiled Baltimore and the nation, NLC’s annual Mayors’ Education Policy Advisors Network’s (EPAN) meeting took place in Baltimore earlier this month.

Baltimore_blogThe city of Baltimore played host to NLC’s recent Mayors’ Education Policy Advisors Network (EPAN) meeting. Photo: Getty Images/sborisov

Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, delivered opening remarks and reiterated her commitment to improving schools throughout the city and expanding afterschool programming by investing funding in schools that serve predominantly low-income students as well as renovating aging facilities. Her remarks reinforced what many in the room see every day: mayors are a force for positive change in public schools across America.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s commitment to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all young people in her city gave purpose to the theme of this year’s EPAN meeting: equity and educational excellence – creating an agenda for student success. Indeed, in light of national discussions on education reform and the Obama administration’s renewed focus on equity and education, not to mention recent events that have highlighted racial and class tensions in urban America, this was a relevant theme not just for the host city but for everyone in the room.

EPAN is a national network to support mayoral leadership in education and to develop and share best practices for the ways that cities, school districts, and other partners can work together to raise student achievement and improve the quality of public education. It is the only national network specifically for education advisors to large city mayors.

In several sessions, education advisors discussed the role of mayors and the role of partners in providing and improving educational opportunities for all youth. A dynamic community schools panel focused on what’s happening in Baltimore.

EPAN comm schools panel

A panel on community schools featured a local high school student, left. The panel was moderated by Marty Blank, right.

Led by Marty Blank, president of the Institute of Educational Leadership and director of the Coalition for Community Schools, the panel featured Jonathon Rondeau, president & CEO of the Baltimore Family League, a local community school principal and a local high school student. A lively discussion took place on how community schools can address inequities and the impact they can have on children and families.

The convening ended with a compelling discussion led by Khalilah Harris, deputy director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for African Americans. Harris, alongside Leon Andrews, director of the Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative at NLC and Jeanette Contreras, special advisor to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, encouraged members to be courageous when addressing issues of equity that may not be popular. Harris also encouraged cities to continually uplift youth voices and provide platforms for youth to participate in local decision-making.

NLC, with the generous support of The Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Ford Foundation and The Wallace Foundation, will continue to grow and nurture EPAN in the work they have been engaged in for the last 12 years to help children and youth in cities across the country succeed.

Miles Sandler
About the Author: Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at

From Warriors to Guardians: How Cities Can Embrace 21st Century Policing (Part 2)

This is a guest post by Thomas M. Larned. This post is the second entry in a two-part series regarding efforts to reform policing practices in response to a growing divide between police officers and the communities that they protect and serve.

President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing concluded that “the mindset guiding police officers should be that of a ‘guardian,’ not a warrior.” The Department of Justice has encouraged municipalities throughout the country to conduct self-assessments of their police departments and implement reforms and best practices. (Photo: Jason Getz/

Despite the fact that crime rates are down and significant advances in professionalizing police departments have been achieved, the mistrust of police officers continues to escalate, much of which can be traced to the loss of the public’s trust in the investigations of police-involved deaths. In fact, in a recent poll by YouGov, less than half of Caucasian Americans and only 19 percent of African Americans trusted the justice system to properly investigate police-involved deaths. In evaluating these results Stephen Rushin, an assistant professor of law at the University of Alabama, wrote, “Where the public has trust, it will sanction law enforcement with legitimacy; and when it does so, it is signaling that the public’s moral values of right and wrong are aligned with those of its police agencies. Conversely, legitimacy crumbles when civilians are treated unfairly and the public is left with the conclusion that police agencies are not accountable.”

In part one of this series, I discussed practices being implemented by many police departments in order to gain the trust of communities. Acknowledging that the culture of an organization will always prevail over its policies when the two are not aligned, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has expanded the use of a two-pronged prod to encourage police reform. The first approach is the Collaborative Reform Review, used in circumstances where municipalities have voluntarily accepted reviews of use of force accountability systems. The second approach is the use of court enforceable consent decrees, entered into with the city after a DOJ investigation has found a pattern or practice of constitutional violations.

The advantage to a city that proactively engages in a Collaborative Reform Review is that the DOJ assigns a team of technical advisors to assist the city in identifying areas in need of improvement and mentors the department throughout the transformation process. Importantly, the review is paid for by the DOJ. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) identified three key factors in the success of its recently completed collaborative reform review: first, a recognition of the need for change; second, an objective to reduce instances of use of force; and third, an appreciation for the sanctity of human life. The LVMPD also reported that its seven-member Use of Force Review Board, which includes three civilians, contributes to the accountability process by providing officers, team members and supervisors with timely feedback and retraining. This is especially important to the process of learning lessons and best practices in instances where an officer’s use of poor tactics contributed to the escalation of a use of force incident. Previously, use of force inquiries ended once a determination was made that the officer’s actions were legally justifiable.

In circumstances where repeated questions regarding use of force accountability systems have surfaced, the DOJ is empowered under 42 U.S.C. § 14141 to seek injunctive relief to end the misconduct and force reforms of policies and procedures that resulted in or allowed the misconduct. DOJ Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta advised attendees at the last month’s Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) Re-Engineering Police Use of Force conference that an important factor in determining whether to initiate a pattern or practice investigation is whether a police department has implemented community policing strategies and incorporated self-correcting mechanisms into its accountability systems. She added that it is not important that officers can articulate rules, but they must be able to correctly apply the rules and the rules must be consistently enforced by the department.

In the wake of last month’s violent protests, DOJ terminated its Collaborative Reform Review of the Baltimore Police Department and initiated a pattern or practice investigation. In announcing the decision, U.S. Attorney General (AG) Loretta Lynch explained that a core condition precedent to a Collaborative Reform Review is a partnership between the police department, municipal leaders and members of the community. Describing the relationship between police and the citizens of Baltimore as “frayed,” Lynch determined that a formal investigation was required in order to obtain a court enforceable consent decree with the city. Similarly, the City of Cleveland entered into a consent decree with the DOJ on May 26 after an investigation found a pattern or practice of constitutional violations.

Although there is substantial room for negotiation in a consent decree, the DOJ has far greater leverage regarding the method and manner in which change is imposed on a police department. Additionally, the appointment of an independent monitor to supervise the process comes with an expensive price tag, which is paid for by the city and typically lasts for a minimum of five years. Lynch acknowledged that the DOJ does not have sufficient resources to implement reforms for every police department in the country. As a result, she encouraged municipalities throughout the country to conduct self-assessments and implement reforms and best practices identified by the DOJ in existing publications.

Thomas M. Larned 125x141About the Author: Thomas M. Larned is Of Counsel at Roetzel & Andress, where he focuses his practice on white-collar litigation and corporate compliance matters. Prior to joining Roetzel, he spent 29 years directing complex criminal investigations for the FBI and Massachusetts Public Defender, as well as conducting comprehensive inspections of FBI Field Offices, ensuring compliance with FBI policies and the U.S. Attorney General’s Guidelines. He served as the FBI Legal Attaché in Iraq and Canada, where he oversaw all FBI operations. He earned his law degree from Suffolk University Law School and his undergraduate degree from Northeastern University. He can be reached at or 202-697-4892.

How the USDA is Celebrating NLC’s Small Cities Month

This is a guest post by Ken Keck. The post originally appeared here.

The City of Anniston will use their 2014 AMS Farmers Market Promotion Program grant funds to establish and promote a year-round farmers market. (Photo credit: Anniston Downtown Farmers Market)

June is Small Cities Month, an opportunity to celebrate the unique and important role our smaller communities play in our rural economy and making our nation a great place to live and work. Leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship often hail from small cities and their residents are proud of their hometowns. USDA partners with communities across the country to create greater economic impact as the strong rural economies of our small, vibrant cities benefit the whole nation.

Secretary Vilsack identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development, and USDA efforts in this area have made a big difference in small cities. My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has a long history of supporting local and regional food systems through grants, research and technical assistance. Across the country, city leaders are recognizing that farmers markets are at the heart of many towns and cities.

Cities like Anniston, Ala., are focusing on farmers markets as key tools to revitalize their economies. As part of a larger strategic plan to create economic development, the City of Anniston decided to boost its farmers market by creating a permanent community gathering place where local food producers could build successful businesses and bring fresh, local food to market.

In 2014, city leaders received a grant from the AMS Farmers Market Promotion Program, which supports farmers markets and other direct producer-to-consumer activities. The City of Anniston will use the grant to establish and promote a year-round farmers market. Helping bring people into town, the market will also incorporate numerous events and activities throughout the summer, from live music to health screenings to chef demonstrations from local restaurants.

Attendees at a recent market. Part of a larger strategic plan to create economic development, the City of Anniston decided to boost its farmers market by creating a permanent community gathering place where local food producers could build successful businesses and bring fresh, local food to market. (Photo credit: Anniston Downtown Farmers Market)

Anniston is just one example of city leaders using USDA grants and resources to strengthen their local food economy. Many cities, large and small, are working with USDA to benefit farmers, ranchers and other local food producers.

USDA also partners with stakeholders and communities to leverage resources for greater impact. Recently, we met with National League of Cities (NLC) CEO Clarence Anthony and members of his staff. NLC is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities by serving as a resource to and an advocate for the more than 19,000 cities, villages, and towns it represents. Together, AMS and NLC will highlight the success stories of cities using USDA tools and resources to build stronger economies and communities.

These investments and partnerships are part of USDA’s commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems through projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities, and increase access to healthy foods. USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2) coordinates USDA’s wide-ranging support for local and regional food systems.

Ken KeckAbout the Author: Ken Keck is the Director of the Marketing Services Division, Transportation & Marketing Program, for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

Why City Libraries Are Lending WiFi Hotspots to Low-Income Residents

This is a guest post by Katherine Bates.

The Rose Main Reading Room in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. (Photo:

Libraries have always played a critical community role in offering low-income residents access to information. Although most libraries offer free public internet access, computers are in high demand and often have time limits. Coupled with the fact that one in four households do not have internet access at home, this may explain why many library patrons often gather outside libraries to access public WiFi after normal operating hours.

In response, libraries are developing innovative programs to help close the digital divide. Hotspot Lending Programs offer low-income patrons access to devices that provide wireless broadband internet access at home; these hotspot devices are pocket-sized, easy to use, and connect multiple devices. While the borrowing requirements differ among the different libraries operating these programs, borrowers are generally eligible if they don’t have their own broadband access and are registered in library educational programs.

These lending programs perform a critical role: in addition to providing basic broadband access to low-income residents, they allow patrons to access free e-books and other digital library resources, and they enable users to complete online job applications and perform other critical web-based processes at home. Outreach efforts are also aimed at the elderly and disabled, who often need access to healthcare information.

The New York Public Library (NYPL), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Borough Public Library are lending WiFi Hot Spots to 10,000 families across New York City who do not currently have internet access at home. The program enables eligible patrons to “check out” WiFi hotspots from the library for up to six months at no cost. Both the device and monthly service fees are fully paid by the NYPL. NYPL will also help patrons access online resources at home.

Another library, the Saint Paul Public Library, is lending their WiFi hotspots for three weeks to those without home broadband access. Saint Paul residents with a Saint Paul Public Library card and less than $10 in library fines are eligible to participate. The library is also lending 100 hotspots to Gordon Parks High School, Central High School and AGAPE High School.

San Mateo County Library is taking things a step further by offering both WiFi hotspots and WiFi hotspot/laptop combos. This program provides wireless hotspots with unlimited data. WiFi hotspot/laptop combos include Microsoft Office 2013, and they can be checked out for up to seven days.

Libraries are vital community institutions. Working in partnership with municipal governments, they are bridging the digital divide and bringing new economic opportunities to residents. The Urban Libraries Council is hosting a webinar with more information about innovative digital literacy programs on June 16 at 12pm EST.

Katherine BatesAbout the Author: Katherine Bates is a Senior Program Manager at the Urban Library Council (ULC). Her focus is on the digital evolution and transformation that urban libraries are undergoing. Founded in 1971, ULC is a membership association of leading public library systems in the U.S. and Canada. While ULC libraries primarily represent urban and suburban settings, lessons from their work are widely adapted by libraries of all sizes, including those in rural settings.

Children’s Savings Accounts: How Cities are Helping Families Save for College

Every family should have the opportunity to save for their children’s future, but this is simply not the reality for many low- and moderate-income families.

CGI America2From left to right: Laura Owens, ‘I Have a Dream’ Foundation; Heidi Goldberg, National League of Cities, Michael Sherraden, Center for Social Development at Washington University; San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros; St. Louis Treasurer Tishuara Jones; Governor John Hickenlooper; and Andrea Levere, CFED President onstage with President Bill Clinton for the announcement of the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future at CGI America. (photo: CGI)

The National League of Cities is proud to join CFED and over a dozen other partners in launching the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future. Announced this week on stage with President Bill Clinton at the CGI America Conference in Denver, the Campaign will work to ensure that 1.4 million children have a savings account for college by 2020.

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are a proven two-generation strategy for helping children and their families move up the economic ladder. Higher education — the surest route to economic success — is within reach when conversations about college happen at an early age. In fact, evidence shows that children with a savings account in their name are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate, even if they have as little as $500 or less in that account. CSAs, particularly locally-led CSA programs, often include the following components:

  • A savings account,
  • Parent/guardian engagement in helping with deposits,
  • Incentives to save, such as cash matches, and
  • Financial education for children and their parents/guardians.

In addition to our partnership with CFED on the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, we’re launching a new project to work with cities to help them plan, develop and implement locally-led CSAs. These cities will have the opportunity to connect with each other and with experts in the field to develop their own blueprints for local action in developing or enhancing CSA programs.

As President Bill Clinton eloquently noted in his opening remarks, there are no silver bullets, but there are thousands of actions we can take that, in the aggregate, can improve the lives of children and families. Implementing a CSA program is one such action. President Clinton recognized the need to highlight successful local actions and initiatives at high-profile events such as CGI America, with the hope that other cities will take what they learn and replicate programs in a way that works for them.

And there are many communities interested in replicating CSA programs, according to a recent NLC scan of local financial inclusion efforts. Our latest report, City Financial Inclusion Efforts: A National Overview, highlights the results of our scan and reveals that emerging financial inclusion strategies, such as CSAs are currently under discussion or in development in cities across the country.

There are several cities already actively engaged in this work, some of whom, such as San Francisco and St. Louis, have signed on as partners to the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future.

In 2010, San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros started Kindergarten to College (K2C), the first publicly funded, universal children’s college savings account program in the U.S. K2C provides a college savings account with a $50 deposit for every child entering public kindergarten in the city. In St. Louis, Treasurer Tishaura Jones’ office is launching the St. Louis College Kids program this fall. Based on San Francisco’s model, every public and charter school kindergartner in St. Louis will receive a savings account with an initial $50 deposit from the City of St. Louis Treasurer’s Office to help families save for their children’s education.

About the Author:
Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

Houston Becomes Largest City to Effectively End Veteran Homelessness

Last week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined hundreds of service providers, community members and business leaders to announce that the city had built the system necessary to effectively end veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness at the official announcement event on Monday, June 1. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

“Too often those that answered the call of service still find themselves struggling long after leaving the military. Houston is there for our heroes, and just like on the battlefield, we will leave no one behind,” said Mayor Parker. “From regular provider coordination meetings and aligning local and federal resources, to dedicated street outreach teams and a coordinated assessment system that identifies, assesses, refers and navigates homeless veterans to housing, the Houston region has come together as a team to transform our homeless response system to effectively end veteran homelessness.”

Joining Mayor Parker were Representatives Al Green, Shelia Jackson Lee and Gene Green, as well as the Secretaries of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Labor and the Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). The senior Administration officials attended the announcement as part of a three-city tour urging cities to mirror the success seen in Houston.

Houston is the largest city to make historic progress on veteran homelessness. In January, New Orleans announced it had reached a similar milestone and previously, Phoenix and Salt Lake City had announced an end to chronic veteran homelessness in their cities.

As the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston also has one of the nation’s largest veteran populations. During her remarks, Mayor Parker noted that Texas is one of the largest states contributing men and women to the military and that many veterans come to Houston following their service because of its economic opportunities.

Both the mayor and federal officials used their remarks to recognize the unfortunate reality that some veterans will experience housing instability and may become homeless. However, because the city has now built a coordinated system, once a homeless or at-risk veteran is identified, the community has the resources and ability to rapidly place the veteran into housing.

To make this system a reality, over 35 local agencies worked together under a collaboration called The Way Home. Collectively, in just over three years, this response system has housed more than 3,650 homeless veterans.

To help cities better understand what it means to meet the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, USICH has developed 10 Strategies to End Veteran Homelessness and issued criteria that communities who have joined the challenge can use to determine if they have built a system that effectively ends veteran homelessness.

One year ago, Mayor Parker was among the first mayors to join the Mayors Challenge. During the June 2014 launch of the challenge at the White House, Mayor Parker spoke about the progress already being seen in Houston. Twelve months later, Mayor Parker joins Mayors Becker, Stanton and Landrieu as local leaders who understand what the end of veteran homelessness looks like and have rallied their communities to make similar historic progress.

With only six months to go until we reach the ambitious timeline set to end veteran homelessness nationwide, local leaders have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the landscape of how we understand and deal with homelessness.

Through the Mayors Challenge, elected officials across the country have stepped forward to give their support to ending homelessness for our veterans. Community stakeholders have more than 600 officials waiting to hear specific and pragmatic requests that can help house our veterans more rapidly.

This show of support by elected officials has never happened before and may never happen again.

In the remaining months, community partners must make tangible requests and engage elected officials with local data on progress being made and the needs moving forward. By illustrating the success that can happen with the active support of elected officials, communities can better partner with local leaders to advocate for the resources necessary to continue the progress seen on veteran homelessness and extend the progress to other homeless sub-populations.

Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix and Salt Lake City have recognized these facts and seized this opportunity.

Make your city the next to create history.

To read Houston’s announcement, click here.
To read NLC’s press release on the achievement, click here.
For more information on how to end veteran homelessness in your city, visit or email

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

An Interview with NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony on Race, Equity & Leadership

Clarence AnthonyNational League of Cities CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony, seen here speaking at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in March. (Jason Dixson)

The tragedies that have occurred in Ferguson, New York City, Baltimore, and other communities throughout America have rightly sparked conversation about the social, cultural, racial and economic factors that affect the everyday lives of city residents – particularly minorities, at-risk youth, and the poor. What can cities do to promote equality and economic opportunity for people of all races, ethnicities, ages and economic backgrounds?

When tragedies like this occur, it not only erodes the relationship between the police and the community, it highlights the fact that there is a growing economic disparity that city leaders in America must recognize and address. High unemployment rates and low graduation rates among citizens in cities, towns and villages shows that certain neighborhoods have prospered while others have not. It’s important that city leaders understand that you have to engage with, and design initiatives for, all constituents in every neighborhood.

For example, city leaders must focus on creating vibrant downtowns while developing inclusive and affordable housing in neighborhoods. This type of approach to public policy will create more engaging cities where citizens can live, work and raise their families within the community that they call home. One way we can accomplish this is to create incentives so that the private sector will hire from within the community. When city leaders promote this type of growth, cities benefit and residents become vested in their community.

Cities should also examine the appointment process for city advisory boards and councils. For example, a planning and zoning commission that doesn’t reflect the ethnic, racial or gender diversity of the city is not truly representative of that city. From parks and recreation departments and advisory councils to tourist development councils and workforce boards, every policy board that advises the elected leadership should represent the diversity of that city. It can be done, but you’ve got to be very strategic and intentional, and have a real commitment to making sure that every segment of the population is represented.

These are just a few of the concrete steps that cities can take to ensure that their communities are equally represented in government. If a community is under-represented, and its needs are not served, then its residents will not be vested in the city as a whole. They won’t feel like the city is their home. And then you’ll see the tragic events that have happened in countless cities across the nation continue to occur. All of these cities have people who feel that they are not part of a community; that they are not “real” citizens with a voice in government. And they will find other ways to make their voices heard.

So there can’t be a disconnect between municipal authority and the people it represents.

You have to have that connection. You have to include them in the governance process, in the community process. I was just at a conference in Philly – Cities United – and it had a panel of young African American men, and their message was “Don’t talk at us; talk to us, and with us.” Many of them were in their mid-twenties, and public policy and programs are being designed for them – but without their input. That has to change. You have to include them in the development of the community in which they live.

The root causes of the recent tragedies are complex and nuanced. Two distinct events consistently stand out, however: the death of a young black male as a result of an interaction with police, and the violent public response that subsequently occurred. What steps can city leaders and local elected officials take to address the potential for these tragedies to occur in their cities?

There has to be an acknowledgement that there are still challenges in communities throughout America when it comes to race relations – specifically, race relations with police departments. Something must occur to strengthen trust between the minority community and police in cities throughout America. At this point, unfortunately, we are starting to see police being targeted in reprisal; community trust continues to erode. We must start a conversation of understanding and partnership – and that conversation must be led by city leaders. The elected officials who are members of the National League of Cities are exactly that type of group; they’re city leaders who strive to create a bridge between police and communities, so that real conversations can occur.

In addition, I think city leaders should start to re-examine – and implement, wherever possible – community policing policies that provide for a real understanding of the communities they serve; there must be understanding to have a relationship with the community. Once you have that relationship, you’ll be able to engage. So city leaders must be able to look at how they’re investing their resources and what kind of progress is being made throughout the community as a whole. When city leaders acknowledge that they have diversity in the community, and they create opportunities to bring people throughout the community together, that creates relationships and real conversations.

This is happening in some communities, but we need it to happen everywhere. The questions involving black males in America focus on more than just police relations – they take into consideration the high unemployment rate, the low high school graduation rate, and the level of poverty that exists in cities throughout America, among other factors. The takeaway is this: city leaders have to focus on improving engagement and relations in their communities. We have to look at how we provide creative and innovative techniques to reach the African American community so that we can achieve our goal of making true connections that are lasting and productive. It will take hard work and partnerships with our educational system and the private sector – and on the law enforcement side, those same partnerships need to develop, focusing on education and training on how to value diversity and how to communicate across cultures.

The change we need will not occur overnight; it will take patience and time to build the trust that our cities deserve. We need to spur conversation, in an effort to reach a certain level of trust and understanding between police and communities. The National League of Cities is quickly becoming a nexus of conversation about race, equity and leadership in American cities. That conversation is long overdue.

Do you see the Cities United event in Philadelphia as one of the forums for that conversation?

Yes. I think Cities United is not only a forum for that conversation, but an excellent tool to help elected officials get the technical expertise they need to deal with the larger issues involved. For example, Cities United provides consultants that help city leaders respond to the challenges faced by American cities that we’ve discussed today.

How does the National League of Cities’ lead that conversation?

Our REAL initiative is a very important tool and resource for city leaders. It’s designed to help them address racial tensions in their communities and create meaningful conversations around racial diversity and equity issues. REAL stands for Race, Equity And Leadership – and the piece that we really have to elevate is the piece on leadership, because our members are the ones who are responsible for governance in American cities.

Earlier, you posed the question, “What should city leaders do if something like this happens?” The challenges we’ve spoken about today are especially difficult challenges for any city leader to face, and it’s the responsibility of the National League of Cities to develop best practices around these issues, give city leaders the space to discuss the challenges they face with a network of peers, and then provide them with the tools they need to manage the situation if something like what happened in Baltimore or Ferguson occurs in their community.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that this will be the last time that tragedies like these will occur. But the reality is that, until a systematic strategy is in place to bring about full economic participation as well as improved relations between police and the communities they serve, these tragedies could happen in any city in America. City leaders are standing up and saying, “we need to fix these issues before something like this occurs in our community.” That’s a conversation that needs to be had. We’re going to start seeing city leaders begin to deal with the injustices, the inequality, and the creation of opportunities for all of their citizens.

And that’s what we have to do: we have to build a city in which everyone is a participant, where all citizens feel like they can raise their kids, and live and work and play in a safe and vibrant environment. You don’t call a place home when you don’t have a system of governance that supports you. Right now, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges American cities face. But if we can rise to that challenge, I think we’ll have more people out on the streets saying “Hey, this is our neighborhood; we own this.” We have to create cities that all citizens can call home.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Associate Editor at the National League of Cities.

From Warriors to Guardians: How Cities Can Embrace 21st Century Policing

This is a guest post by Thomas M. Larned. This post is the first entry in a two-part series regarding efforts to reform policing practices in response to a growing divide between police officers and the communities that they protect and serve.

Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), a TV character from the 1960s that embodied many of the ideas associated today with community-oriented policing. (Image courtesy CBS archives)

In “The Nobility of Policing,” authors Michael Nila and Stephen Covey described the Guardians from Plato’s perfect society as “those with the most impeccable character (who) are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy.”

Last month, law enforcement leaders from around the country met in Washington, D.C. at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) Re-Engineering Police Use of Force conference to collaborate with health and education experts as well as international colleagues to discuss strategies to return police officers from the mindset of a warrior to the mindset of a guardian. In pursuit of that objective, participants examined current recruiting and training practices in an effort to ensure departments are hiring officers who share their departments’ core values and are providing them with the tools to safely perform their duties. Concepts including Procedural Justice, Justice Based Policing, Tactical Restraint and Community Policing were emphasized as alternatives to “zero tolerance” crime prevention strategies, which many believe have led to unnecessary and excessive instances of use of force and caused resentment toward police officers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Chicago Police Department are currently engaged in a project to develop performance measures to evaluate officers based on their ability to prevent use of force encounters through de-escalation techniques.

(Getty Images)

Officer Joe Friday (Jack Webb), a character from the 1960s TV show Dragnet, was famous for being one of the most straight-laced police officers depicted on television. Officer Friday fired his weapon two times during the entire span of the show. (Getty Images)

In “The Four Pillars of Justice Based Policing,” King County (Seattle) Sheriff Sue Rahr described Justice Based Policing as “a strategy to improve the quality and outcome of interactions between police and citizens while improving officer safety. Over time and across multiple interactions it strengthens community trust and confidence in the police and increases future cooperation and lawful behavior by citizens.” Rahr and other members of the President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing are developing strategies to improve police practices nationwide, recognizing that one way to reduce violence against police officers is to reduce the level of hostility toward police officers.

Additionally, many departments are embracing the concept of Procedural Justice, which asserts that the “process” during a law enforcement encounter may be more important to a citizen than the “outcome” and that citizens are more likely to accept the legitimacy of law enforcement actions when the encounter leaves the citizen believing his or her dignity was respected. Professor Tom Tyler of Yale University states, “If legal authorities exercise their authority fairly, they build legitimacy and increase both willing deference to rules and the decisions of the police and the courts and the motivation to help with the task of maintaining social order in the community.” For example, a driver may not mind paying a speeding ticket that is issued by an officer who is professional and respectful during the encounter. On the other hand, a driver who is bullied by an officer may be left with significant resentment, even if he receives a warning rather than a speeding ticket.

Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and a former police officer, suggested in the Harvard Law Review Forum that police departments should expand community policing principles and instruct officers to employ tactical restraint to reduce risks when doing so is consistent with the police mission, stating, “Tactical restraint doesn’t teach officers to run away from violent confrontations; it teaches them to approach every situation in a way that minimizes the threat of having it turn violent in the first place.”

Communities and police departments confront unique challenges based on a number of factors including economics, education, geography and cultural attitudes that require individualized solutions. Members of PERF emphasized the need for improved training regarding de-escalation techniques and the development of specially trained crisis intervention teams to resolve encounters with the mentally ill without resorting to the use of force. Police departments including Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, Calif., have emphasized critical thinking and tactical restraint concepts based on the theory that officer safety can be increased and the need for the use of force can be reduced by officers who use good tactics to maintain distance and cover from a threatening subject. By slowing down an encounter, officers create an opportunity to communicate, develop a tactical plan and obtain re-enforcement. Departments including Oakland and Spokane, Wash., described excellent results from the use of body cameras in conjunction with the implementation of reforms. However, Executive Director Chuck Wexler, who led the discussion at the PERF conference, reminded the audience that safe and effective policing principles continue to depend on an organizational culture committed to the safety of all of the participants in a crises encounter – including wrongdoers. As Wexler stated, “The only thing body cameras without reforms accomplish is to record bad policing.”

Thomas M. Larned 125x141About the Author: Thomas M. Larned is Of Counsel at Roetzel & Andress, where he focuses his practice on white-collar litigation and corporate compliance matters. Prior to joining Roetzel, he spent 29 years directing complex criminal investigations for the FBI and Massachusetts Public Defender, as well as conducting comprehensive inspections of FBI Field Offices, ensuring compliance with FBI policies and the U.S. Attorney General’s Guidelines. He served as the FBI Legal Attaché in Iraq and Canada, where he oversaw all FBI operations. He earned his law degree from Suffolk University Law School and his undergraduate degree from Northeastern University. He can be reached at or 202-697-4892.

Policing Will Change

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Firefighters work to extinguish street fires in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., August 1965. The historic Watts riots occurred after neighborhood residents watched two white officers scuffling in apprehending a suspected black drunk driver. (image courtesy

Author’s note: After the grim and disheartening days in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, and other cities across the nation, there is hope. There are cities that once faced the same climate we are seeing in Baltimore today that are now making strides and developing programs that are saving lives and transforming the relationships between the police and those they police – a move from a volatile combination of resentment and violence to one of authentic collaboration and caring. Watts serves as a shining example.

“It’s not been a change – it’s a transformation. I grew up in Watts. I got jumped into a gang when I was 13 – only way I could get to school safely. Otherwise, I got beat up every day. We hated the cops. Man, nobody talked to the cops. Nobody trusted the cops; if you talked to the cops, you could get hurt. Sold drugs… did time in prison… and now? Well, just let me say it this way: I’ve never seen moms and grandmothers sitting on their front steps waving to cops. They do now, in Watts. I’ve never seen kids running up to cops to get a hug – happens all the time. And guess what? I have a say in helping hiring these cops!”

So spoke Michael Cummings, Executive Director of We Care Outreach Ministries at a breakout session I ran for the Council on Foundations annual meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 28th. Michael, who also co-facilitates the Children’s Institute Project Fatherhood, and who helped organize the Safe Passage Haven program for Jordan High School, plays a key role in the Advancement Project’s remarkable report “Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts.” Things haven’t changed in the three target housing projects – Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts – they’ve been transformed. Cummings reports a dramatic drop in homicides – in some areas zero homicide, zero – in this, one of the most violent pieces of real estate in the nation.

“The cops stay with us for five years, and they get two stripes. They don’t get the stripes if they don’t stay. Yes, they arrest. But they are really part of us in the community. They help coach the Watts Bears. They take the kids to the Clippers’ and Dodgers’ games. They’re on the ground. They’ve even helped with providing food in emergencies, and helping kids get jobs.

The Advancement Project’s relationship-based policing, called “the Community Safety Partnership” (CSP), “imagines a new way of operating for the police where their legitimacy in the community is built on procedural justice, authentic relationships with community members, and sustained commitment to improve the health and well-being of the community, not just a focus on crime statistics.” CSP has targeted Watts’ highest crime areas, areas “plagued” by other issues: poor school retention, unemployment, few usable green spaces, limited access to healthy foods, and chronic mistrust. (See Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Program, Community Safety Partnership and Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts).

LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck established CSP in partnership with former Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) CEO Rudy Montreal and the Advancement Project. CSP vision stresses both “safety” and “peace” along with “long-term community development” and “a healthy quality of life.” It would do this through a combination of support programs and “the presence and sustainable relationships between LAPD officers, residents and other community leaders.” Safety and relationships with law enforcement are conjoined with community capacity development.

To ensure sustainability, and to avoid being viewed as just another program or short-term initiative, CSP planners, who intended that CSP be seen not as “an isolated tactic of a few officers, but an established practice endorsed by the highest ranks of LAPD,” carefully screened and selected 35 officers out of 400 applicants. CSP officers received promotions, were rigorously trained with 25 community stakeholders, and, in order to forge lasting relationships in a notoriously mistrusting community, pledged a five-year commitment. Promotions and raises (“incentive structures”) are not solely based on traditional enforcement measures such as an increase in arrests, but on other measures such as diversion of youthful offenders and helping students travel safely to school. “These new cops had to get to know the community,” said Cummings. “We showed them around. We had lunch with community leaders. Took them to schools and had them meet with the principals and teachers. Yeah, they have to help us keep the crime down – but, now that they know us, they’re worried about us, how we’re doing, helping kids have a good future.”

(image courtesy

(image courtesy

The Advancement Project’s 2012 report, “A Call to Action: Los Angeles’ Quest Toward Community Safety,” concludes that CSP has been instrumental in:

  • Reducing violent crime by more than 50% in three Watts housing developments
  • Notable decreases in gang membership and activity
  • Plummeting homicide rates

CSP is seen as the first step in a $1 billion effort to redevelop the housing developments via mixed-income homes, stores and parks, support of construction jobs, and newly-created small businesses.

The overly-militarized “warrior” culture of policing will change. Officers, with the community, will eventually be seen as co-producers of safety. If found guilty, officers in Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, North Charleston and other cities must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Race-biased, culturally insensitive policing must end. But the most good that can emerge from the events claiming headlines daily is not just a change in the ethos of policing in America, but that the public will see and act upon the real issues, now glaringly evident – seethingly evident – in cities across the nation: issues of unemployment, poor schools, families with no fathers, absence of jobs paying livable wages, chronic exposure to violence, the obscene availability of guns, sub-standard housing, and hopelessness.

These should be the lessons we all learn from the grim events in Baltimore – and from the hope in Watts.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

Financial Inclusion: Helping Families Gain a Solid Financial Foothold

Our new report, City Financial Inclusion Efforts: A National Overview, highlights the growing commitment of city leaders to address the financial challenges of their residents.

Financial ed_mother and daughter_blog(Getty Images)

Mayors and other city leaders see first-hand how families in their communities are struggling to navigate today’s complex financial systems. They hear from residents regularly about how hard it is to pay all of their monthly bills, save money for their children’s education, or navigate unexpected debts that stem from a job loss or hospital visit.

One in 13 households in the U.S. do not even have a bank account – the primary way most Americans conduct their day-to-day financial transactions. City leaders know that these kinds of financial challenges can threaten the well-being of families and erode the economic base of a city.

FI_QuoteCity Financial Inclusion Efforts: A National Overview highlights research that show 65 percent of mayors and other city leaders are taking action to mitigate the financial challenges many of their residents face on a daily basis.

To combat these challenges, mayors, councilmembers and city treasurers across the country are working with community partners to help families build savings and assets, improve credit scores and expand access to safe and affordable financial services. These efforts are typically grouped under the umbrella of “financial inclusion.” BUILDINGBLOCKSsmalltable_web-version_Soren

While some cities have traditionally helped residents purchase homes or offered limited financial education classes, our survey found that more cities are now taking action to address a range of financial needs through numerous innovative financial inclusion programs. And some cities have assembled the necessary building blocks to develop comprehensive local financial inclusion systems.

Though these programs are most common in larger cities in the Northeast, smaller cities in other parts of the country are taking action, too. The report showcases cities throughout the country that are engaged in financial inclusion efforts. Columbia, S.C., for example, has created an Office of Family Financial Stability to meet their residents’ financial needs. Lansing, Mich., and Nashville, Tenn., are providing financial counseling and other services to individuals and families; and in San Francisco, every child entering public kindergarten can get a savings account for college with $50 already deposited.

CITIES_Figure01_web_dThere is tremendous potential for city government to lead the way in securing financial stability for families. By coordinating with local partners and acting as champions for their residents’ financial health, city-led financial inclusion efforts can have far-reaching impacts on local economic development.

About the Author:
Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.