Mayors Continue Emphasis on Public Safety, New Approaches Emerging

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This year’s National League of Cities analysis of State of the City speeches reaffirms that while mayors across the country continue to see public safety as a top issue, they’re employing new tactics and approaching the entire arena from a different perspective.

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In their 2016 State of the City speeches, several mayors laid out visions for continued progress in community policing, or what some call guardian policing. (Getty Images)

Alongside other core priorities for city government such as infrastructure and economic development, the nation’s mayors consistently emphasized ensuring and improving public safety, as seen in the National League of Cities’ State of the Cities 2016 report. Of note this year, several mayors focused on new or revised approaches getting underway in key areas such as community policing, diversion, reentry, and youth violence prevention.

Such approaches continue to illustrate the contributions that city governments can make to greater effectiveness and fairness in broad public safety and criminal justice efforts, in ways that complement actions by courts, county jail administrators and state corrections departments.

With police departments a primary means for cities to ensure safety – and in the context of continued tragic events and simmering or exposed tensions – several mayors laid out visions for continued progress in community policing, or what some call guardian policing. Some pointed to specific strategies to build or restore trust between police departments and residents, including Mayor John King of Covina, California, and Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts.  Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther noted: “Bike patrols, walking crews, community liaison officers, school resource officers, social media outreach, our Diversity Recruiting Council, listening tours – these are just some of the many ways our police make every effort to engage with the communities they serve, keeping communication lines open and building trust and goodwill.”

Mayors highlighted investments in diversion and reentry programming that yield both short- and long-term payoffs, picking up on themes consistent with the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ (YEF Institute) resources in use by dozens of cities pursuing strategies to reduce arrest and incarceration for youth and young adults. For instance, pointing to adoption of an increasingly common tactic to reduce overuse of jails, Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina, explained that the police department “is now testing a new citation and release pilot program, designed to reduce the number of citizens incarcerated for minor offenses.”

Mayors in cities of vastly different sizes – including  Mayor Adrian Mapp of Plainfield, New Jersey; Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston; and Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. – focused on providing better supports and services upon reentry from prisons and jails, such as access to drug-free housing, job training programs and mental health services.

Mayor Ginther of Columbus explained that city’s comprehensive reentry approach, which spans services, supports, and jobs: “We will continue to invest in Restoration Academy, which offers a second chance to restored citizens who are ready to contribute to their communities and support their families. And this year, I am pleased to announce that we will offer two classes of Restoration Academy, with one class specifically for 18- to 23-year-olds. The City of Columbus alone has hired 40 graduates to date.”

Informed by NLC’s longstanding support for the California Gang Prevention Network and successor initiative the National Forum for Youth Violence Prevention, a number of cities continue to launch, expand and improve strategies to steer young people into productive pursuits and away from gangs and guns. Mayors in cities including Baltimore; Evanston, Illinois; Jersey City, New Jersey; Seattle; and Nashville, Tennessee, referred to city adoption of a variety of methods. These included fielding outreach workers, development of comprehensive violence prevention plans, and hospital-based violence intervention programs to reduce retribution. Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee summed up a common view when he said, “Our emphasis will be on youth development and preventing youth violence because we need to ensure that every young person can achieve their goals and build a successful future.”

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about data and technology.

Andrew Moore About the Author: Andrew Moore is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.