Is Your City at Risk of Losing Federal Funding?

There are three main questions that cities need to be aware of when dissecting the political rhetoric around sanctuary cities.


The Trump administration has directed the Department of Justice (pictured above) and the Department of Homeland Security to withhold funding from sanctuary jurisdictions — an order that raises more questions than it answers for cities. (Getty)

This April recess, NLC is encouraging city leaders to engage with their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts for two weeks. Don’t let Congress leave America’s cities behind — join us this week and next as we #FightTheCuts proposed in the administration’s budget.

This post is part of a series on the 2018 federal budget.

Is your city at risk of losing federal funding following the Trump administration’s sanctuary cities executive order? Despite the rhetoric we are hearing, we think the short answer is no — at least, not anytime soon. Many legal issues would need to be resolved before the federal government could act to withhold grant funding from any so-called “sanctuary” jurisdiction.

The courts must first determine the constitutionality of enforcing President Donald Trump’s executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security and the attorney general to withhold funding from jurisdictions with sanctuary policies. Recently, nearly 300 legal scholars sent a letter to the president that argued the executive order violates the Fourth and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution. The cities of San Francisco and Seattle have already filed injunctions to stay the order, and a decision on the cases is expected shortly.

Let’s be clear. When dissecting the political rhetoric around sanctuary cities, there are three main questions that cities need to be aware of: What is a sanctuary jurisdiction? How do Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers affect a sanctuary jurisdiction? What does cooperation with ICE mean for cities?

First, there is no legal definition of a sanctuary city/jurisdiction. Last year, Congress tried to define a “sanctuary jurisdiction” as a local government that specifically prohibits its government officials from sharing information with federal immigration information officers, which would be a violation of U.S.C. 8 §1373. While the Department of Justice’s inspector general determined that some jurisdictions have policies that limit the types of information local officials collect on immigration status, that did not mean the jurisdictions were in violation of Sec. 1373.

Second, the immigration hawks that are promoting sanctions against sanctuary cities focus their arguments on compliance with voluntary ICE detainer requests. There is no requirement that a local jurisdiction comply with a detainer request. If a jurisdiction does not comply with a detainer request, that does not make them a sanctuary, regardless of what anti-immigration activists argue.

ICE has the authority to issue a detainer request to any law enforcement agency that has in their custody an immigrant charged or convicted of a crime. Compliance with the detainers is voluntary and at the discretion of the local jurisdiction or law enforcement agency. The courts have ruled that detainer requests violate a person’s rights under the Fourth Amendment because they lack probable cause to arrest and keep someone in jail after they have served their time.

The irony in this whole debate is that ICE has broad authority to issue a warrant for arrest for the same immigrant, which would not violate the Fourth Amendment. When asked why ICE continues to issue detainer requests instead of warrants for arrest, the simple answer is that, to do so, they would have to provide probable cause for the warrant. So, while every other local law enforcement officer must show probable cause before arresting someone, ICE seems to believe they are excluded from this constitutional requirement. The courts, however, disagree with ICE’s determination. Several federal courts have ruled in recent years that local jurisdictions can be held liable for violating immigrants’ civil rights if they detain them at the request of ICE without a court order.

Third, local law enforcement agencies cooperate routinely with ICE and other federal law enforcement agencies to arrest and remove the most dangerous immigrants that are part of drug cartels and gangs. Recent enforcement actions by ICE are increasingly focusing on undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for years and have become woven into the fabric of our communities. Their children attend schools with our children. They contribute to the local economy and support local programs.

Local law enforcement works closely with these communities by building trust to keep the public safe. Local governments consider the risk of tearing up immigrant families and communities, disrupting the local economy, and eroding the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

It is the sole responsibility of the federal government to enforce immigration laws. The president, the attorney general and ICE have made it a top priority to enforce immigration deportation for anyone who is in this country illegally, but this does not mean it must be the top priority of local governments. While local governments should not prevent ICE from performing its duties, they are not responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of Congress to fix our broken immigration system. The National League of Cities (NLC) has a clear policy position on comprehensive immigration reform, and cities need to urge their Congressional delegation to stop the corrosive political rhetoric against cities and fix our broken immigration system.

City leaders are doing their jobs — and now it is time for Congress to do its job.

Learn more about NLC’s efforts to fight back against proposed budget cuts to city funding.

yucel_ors_125x150About the author: Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

The Federal Government Needs to Fix the Immigration System — Not Cities

An attempt to shift the federal responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws to local governments is an unfunded mandate that diverts critical resources from local government programs.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents work with local police officers to conduct an early morning

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents work with local police officers in Los Angeles. (photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

This post was co-authored by Yucel Ors and Aileen Carr.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. This order would direct the federal government to strip federal grant money from sanctuary cities, which are cities deemed by the Trump Administration to willfully violate federal law by shielding aliens from removal. “The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

The full text of the executive order is available here. The relevant section of the executive order states:

“It is the policy of the executive branch to ensure, to the fullest extent of the law, that a State, or a political subdivision of a State, shall comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373. In furtherance of this policy, the Attorney General and the Secretary, in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary. The Secretary has the authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction. The Attorney General shall take appropriate enforcement action against any entity that violates 8 U.S.C. 1373, or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law.”

In response to the executive order, the National League of Cities (NLC) released the following statement:

“There appears to be a false assumption that ‘sanctuary cities’ prevent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from enforcing immigration laws. This could not be further from the truth. In practice, federal programs intended to partner with cities and towns on immigration enforcement are broken. The reality is that, in cities across the nation, police departments are routinely cooperating with ICE’s immigration enforcement efforts, while at the same time building constructive relationships with their communities to improve public safety. The order signed by President Trump does not clearly define sanctuary jurisdictions, so it is difficult to foresee how and which cities will be impacted by the order. Legislative efforts in 2016 to define and penalize sanctuary cities were defeated in Congress, which could have cost cities up to $137 million or more in COPS hiring grants. We call on President Trump to open a dialogue with city leaders, and work with local governments to enact real, comprehensive immigration reform that respects the principles of local control.”

NLC’s long-standing position is that measures requiring cities to use local law enforcement resources to enforce federal immigration laws are unfunded mandates that impose additional disproportionate responsibilities on local law enforcement, increase financial liability on local governments, and ultimately move us further from our foundational principles of federalism. Contrary to the president’s stated public safety goals, this action is likely to jeopardize the effectiveness of many local law enforcement efforts. Many police chiefs, mayors, and city councilmembers across the country are concerned that such policies impede efforts to preserve police-community relations and ensure that residents feel safe reporting crimes and accessing government services.

“One thing I am sure of is that Nashville is stronger and safer when we are a warm and welcoming place for all. While we cannot control border policies here in Nashville, we can pull together as a city by embracing the immigrants and refugees who are an integral part of our community.”

-Nashville, Tennessee, Mayor Megan Berry

“We value the members of our community here and we’re willing to, at some point, sacrifice money to make sure community members feel safe.”

-Beaverton, Oregon, Mayor Lacey Beaty

“Santa Fe is a city that has practiced as part of its values nondiscrimination… We do believe that every person deserves respect and dignity when they’re living in our community peacefully, when they’re contributing. And the issue of law enforcement resources needs to go towards community policing. And so the last thing that we are going to do is serve as an extension of the federal immigration services and begin to issue, through administrative warrants, detention orders.”

-Santa Fe, New Mexico, Mayor Javier Gonzalez

“For more than 150 years, Portland has been a destination for those wanting to apply their hard work to the purpose of creating a better life for themselves and their families. My own family made the trek on the Oregon Trail. We are a city built on immigration. We are not going to run from that history. We will not be complicit in the deportation of our neighbors. Under my leadership as Mayor, the city of Portland will remain a welcoming, safe place for all people regardless of immigration status. This approach is consistent with the Oregon state law and the 4th and 10th Amendments of the United States Constitution. We will not compromise our values as a city or as Americans, and we will resist these policies.”

-Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler

President Trump’s latest executive order is not the first federal measure in this arena – in recent years, Congress has also introduced bills that would cut federal funding to cities they deem to be sanctuary jurisdictions. The most recent bills targeted COPS and CDBG funds, but NLC was successful in efforts to defeat all of them.

Since there is no statutory definition of “sanctuary” cities or policies, and the nature of collaboration between federal and local law enforcement on immigration has evolved significantly over the last decade, there is often much confusion about this issue. Here are the facts:

  • For many years now, ICE agents have routinely worked in all cities, whether or not they have policies that limit the voluntary role cities play in federal immigration enforcement. No city or local government official provides safe harbor to an immigrant who breaks local and state laws.
  • ICE agents have full authority to take people into custody from any jurisdiction as long as they have evidence that the individual violated federal immigration laws. While cities voluntarily cooperate with ICE in all sorts of immigration enforcement efforts, they are not obligated to be a surrogate agency to ICE.
  • Cities are not permitted to have polices that may interfere with or restrict federal law enforcement from enforcing immigration laws.
  • Title 8 of U.S. Code Section 1373 also prohibits cities from restricting local law enforcement from cooperating or exchanging information with federal immigration authorities on any reasonable suspicions they have regarding persons already in their custody.
  • As long as cities are in compliance with Section 1373, the federal government should not be able to withhold funding that has been statutorily authorized and appropriated.
  • Federal agencies may require cities to demonstrate that their policies are in compliance with Section 1373 when they apply for grants and federal assistance. Cities that are not in compliance may need to change their policies prior to receiving federal assistance.
  • The Department of Justice has issued guidance on what cities need to do to comply with section 1373. City leaders can access that resource here.

The short-sighted executive order issued by the president neglects to recognize that is it the sole responsibility of the federal government to prosecute and deport criminals who violate federal immigration laws. At a time when local governments are working to strengthen police-community relations, build trust, advance initiatives to increase economic mobility, and live out their values of inclusion and equity, executive orders and legislative proposals to withhold funding from cities are particularly troubling and counterproductive. An attempt to shift the federal responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws to local governments is an unfunded mandate that diverts critical resources from local government programs, compromises public safety, and hinders local efforts to work with immigrant communities.

Instead of trying to coerce cities and towns to enforce the broken immigration laws of the United States, President Trump should work with local governments to find a solution that respects the principles of local control, effectively enforces current immigration law, and creates a process whereby undocumented immigrants currently living in our cities may earn legalized status through payment of appropriate fees and back taxes, background checks, consistent work history, and appropriate civics requirements.

About the authors:

yucel_ors_125x150Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

Aileen Carr is the Manager of NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) initiative.

Two Reasons Why the 21st Century Cures Act is Good for Cities

The passage of the bill is an important step towards ensuring federal support for local efforts to address substance abuse and mental health needs, particularly when it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic.

According to the CDC, "more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled."

The 21st Century Cures Act provides $1 billion of critical funding to communities combatting the opioid crisis. According to the CDC, more than 60 percent of drug overdose deaths involve an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) has nearly quadrupled.

This post was co-authored by Yucel Ors and Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman.

Today the U.S. Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The comprehensive health bill does many things, including reshaping how the Food and Drug Administration regulates drugs and medical devices and providing new funding for cutting-edge research on disease. But the bill does much more – in ways that impact cities and their communities.

  1. The 21st Century Cures Act provides $1 billion of critical funding to communities combatting the opioid crisis.
    The Cures Act builds on the programs authorized in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) by providing $1 billion over two years for grants to state and local governments to supplement opioid abuse prevention and treatment programs. Areas covered include:
  • Prescription drug monitoring programs
  • Implementing prevention activities
  • Training for health care providers

In November, the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) City-County National Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic released the report, “A Prescription for Action: Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis.” The report provides recommendations for how local officials should address the opioid crisis and explores how cities and counties can strengthen collaboration with each other and state, federal, private-sector and nonprofit partners.

The passage of The Cures Act, in combination with CARA, are important legislative steps toward combatting the opioid crisis from a local level.

  1. The Cures Act addresses substance abuse and mental health needs.
    Cities have long been advocating for reforms to the mental health and criminal justice systems to better address substance abuse and mental health needs. Local elected officials have been leaders in the effort to reduce the criminalization of mentally ill persons, and NLC has made it a priority to advocate for legislation that would help local governments continue to make significant reforms to the criminal justice and mental health system.

The Cures Act addresses many of the criminal justice and mental health system reforms for which NLC has been advocating:

  • Second Chance Act amended to allow state and local governments to use reentry demonstration project grant funds for the provision of mental health treatment and transitional services (including housing) for mentally ill offenders who are re-entering the community
  • Drug Court Grant Program amended to allow state and local governments to use their existing grant funds to include targeted interventions for individuals who have both a mental health and substance abuse disorders
  • Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program changed to enable local law enforcement to use to funds for the creation of mental health response and corrections programs, including police crisis intervention teams
  • Community Oriented Policing Services Grant Program (COPS) amended to allow local law enforcement to use funds for specialized mental health response training
  • Federal mental health court grant funds can now be used for the creation of court-ordered outpatient treatment programs to prevent the escalation of mental health crises

On the bill’s passage, NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone said, “The Cures Act goes a long way to lay the groundwork for strong partnerships at every level of government – and it is our hope that before the 114th Congress adjourns it will appropriate the necessary funding authorized in the legislation.”

We are encouraged that Congress has taken a major step towards addressing one our nation’s greatest epidemics and is making it possible for local governments to make significant advances towards reforming the criminal justice system and combating the opioid epidemic. NLC looks forward to working closely with Congress and the Federal government to ensure the programs authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act and CARA help local governments build stronger and safer communities.

About the authors:

Yucel-OrsYucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.


Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Program Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.

Flood Mitigation: An Investment in City Resilience

Working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Economist Intelligence Unit put together a socio-economic analysis to help local officials make a compelling argument to invest in flood mitigation programs.

photo - coastal flooding

A study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the benefits of flood mitigation found that investment to make homes and infrastructure more flood-proof returns positive economic, environmental, and social benefits for communities. (Getty Images)

American cities are increasingly at risk from storm surges caused by frequent, high precipitation weather patterns. Researchers from the University of South Florida found that, “with nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population residing in coastal areas, compound flooding can have devastating impacts for low-lying, densely populated and heavily developed regions when strong storm surge and high rainfall amounts occur together.”

Cities that have a large concentration of population in coastal areas that are also subject to potential devastating storm surges are taking steps to mitigate the risk of flooding. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (the research and analysis division of The Economist Group), “The benefits of mitigation cannot be overstated. Community leaders are driven to take action to revitalize neighborhoods, improve public spaces, enhance public safety, and boost the city’s competitiveness.”

Working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Economist Intelligence Unit put together a socio-economic analysis to help local officials make a compelling argument to invest in flood mitigation programs. The study includes in-debt community case studies, state-by-state analysis, and key takeaways. The Economist looked at the mitigation efforts of 11 cities and counties: Elkader, Iowa; Shepherdsville, Kentucky; Austin, Minnesota; Jefferson County, Wisconsin; Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; Boston, Massachusetts; DeKalb County, Georgia; Cobb County, Georgia; St. Louis County, Missouri; Lemon Grove, California; and Hancock County, Mississippi.

The study provides real-life examples that highlight the benefits local communities received by implementing flood mitigation programs. These communities:

  • Avoided property losses
  • Avoided business & education interruption
  • Avoided loss of critical infrastructure
  • Revitalized neighborhoods
  • Improved public spaces
  • Enhanced public safety
  • Enjoyed ecosystem benefits
  • Increased competitiveness for the community

The analysis found that “the economic benefits from flood mitigation significantly outweigh the costs by as much as five to one.” However, funding flood mitigation is a challenge for many local governments. Fortunately, there are creative solutions and financing sources that can help local governments fund mitigation projects and ease the financial strain. Along with other governmental assistance programs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), FEMA is working to reduce the financial burden for local governments.

One of the most direct benefits from flood mitigation is that communities could receive a significant discount of up to 45 percent on flood insurance rates. The Economist study found that “communities that invested to in mitigation improved their Community Rating System (CRS) class and received significant discounts on flood insurance, putting money back in the pockets of property owners.”

Next year, Congress will once again take up legislation to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by FEMA. The program, which will expire in 2017, provides affordable flood insurance to millions of homes and business in flood zones. However, the program has come under considerable scrutiny because of the extensive flooding that has occurred over the past decade in many cities across the country; the insurance payouts from the excessive flooding are making the program unsustainable. Next year, Congress may consider changes to the program that could significantly raise flood insurance rates and increase the number of homeowners and businesses that need flood insurance.

NLC believes that Congress must reauthorize the NFIP and keep flood insurance rates affordable for primary, non-primary and business properties while balancing the fiscal solvency of the program. However, to reduce the risk of flooding, local governments need additional resources from the federal government to implement mitigation programs before a flood – not after.

Yucel-OrsAbout the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

How Cities Can Train Police Officers Not to Shoot

American soldiers are provided with extensive training that outlines strict rules of engagement and emphasizes the use of force as a last resort. Why aren’t we providing our police officers with the same level of training?

(Getty Images)

Military standards dictate that most soldiers facing enemy combatants be given escalation of force guidelines that require them to exhaust several steps – hand signals, flags, smoke and flare use, warning shots and disabling shots – before the use of deadly force (“kill shots”) are authorized. (Getty Images)

Police shootings occur nearly every day in America. Many are justified, but many are unnecessary and avoidable. When investigations ensue, reasonable consideration is given to the fact that an officer may have been justified in the use of deadly force because they followed established protocols and training methods. However, the circumstances surrounding most police shootings in the last decade show that our officers are being provided with inadequate training.

If better training might have resulted in a better outcomes for both officers and victims of police shootings, then why aren’t officers being given the training they deserve?

Each year, nearly 45,000 law enforcement recruits enter state and local basic law enforcement training programs. Depending on state and local laws, most recruits are given approximately 600–800 hours of basic training. These training programs are often similar to military training and involve intense physical demands and psychological pressure. However, our soldiers are provided with extensive training that outlines strict rules of engagement and emphasizes the use of force as a last resort. Our police are not given the same training.

When a recruit enters the police academy, they are taught that they will be putting their lives on the line. They are told that criminals will not hesitate to shoot them, and that the job they are about to take on is one of real danger and sacrifice. What they aren’t often taught is that the vast majority of their encounters with the public will not be not life-threating, and that policing is less about using a weapon than it is about using reasoning skills to de-escalate conflict and keep the peace. The first course of action for any officer during an encounter with an individual should not be to put their hands on their weapon.

Being a police officer is an inherently dangerous occupation, but when governments place an emphasis on the extreme danger police may or may not encounter while on the job instead of emphasizing the vital role of community policing and the duty of officers to protect and serve all citizens, they cripple their officers from the start by instilling during training a warped mentality based on fear and survival. In effect, the training they are provided isn’t just inadequate – it also adds undue stress to a job that is stressful enough as it is. And unfortunately, because of this improper training, police officers then approach their duties with the mindset of warriors as opposed to that of guardians.

How a law enforcement officer is trained to protect his or her community is ultimately the responsibility of local elected officials. City leaders should know exactly how their law enforcement officers are being trained, and what that training encompasses, so that officers can effectively develop the skills needed to protect and serve their communities. While some states may have minimum training requirements for law enforcement officers, local officials should consider bolstering training regimens in areas related to effective leadership, decision-making, and nonviolent conflict resolution so that the use of deadly force is a last resort.

The first step in building trust between police and the communities they serve is to make sure law enforcement training provides the foundation to cultivate police officers as leaders in – and guardians of – their communities. Recently, many states and local governments have changed their laws to require recruits and officers to receive increased training in de-escalation tactics and the use of nonlethal force. City leaders across the nation are joining this movement to change similar laws in their own municipalities. Law enforcement agencies are also looking at new, innovative online training programs for line-level officers to develop leadership and decision-making skills.

This past spring, the National League of Cities released its “City Officials Guide to Policing in the 21st Century” to inform elected officials about the relevant recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and provide guidance on how city leaders can work together with law enforcement officials to implement the principles of community policing. The report includes a section on officer training and education that highlights the need for cities to prioritize de-escalation training for officers.

Police officers make sacrifices every day to protect and serve their communities. If city leaders do not provide them with the tools they need to make the best possible decisions in the field, then cities fail to recognize and respect those sacrifices – and they continue to put both officers and the citizens they serve at greater risk every day.

Yucel-OrsAbout the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control. He is also the author of 6 Essential Tenets for Effective Community Policing. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

6 Essential Tenets for Effective Community Policing

Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.

LA-PoliceLos Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti greets an officer during a community celebration. (Getty)

This is an excerpt from NLC’s report, City Officials Guide to Policing in the 21st Century. The purpose of this guide is to inform elected officials about the relevant recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and provide guidance on how they can work together with their city’s law enforcement officials to implement the principles of community policing.

Community policing is a comprehensive approach to public safety rather than a set of easily-implemented steps. Because it requires partnerships and a culture that actively embraces community engagement in policy-making and intervention, city leaders must often serve as champions of this approach and work in concert with law enforcement agencies and other decision-makers to underscore its importance and ensure that it becomes a part of the community’s doctrine.

Although community policing and the efforts surrounding it may look different in each municipality, there are several thematic take-away ideas from this publication that local elected officials should consider as they work to integrate its tenets into their local public safety cultures.

1. Foster trust

Trust between police and the communities they serve is perhaps the most critical component of the community policing concept. City leaders are central to cultivating that trust within their communities. They can encourage their local law enforcement agencies to embrace the “guardians not warriors” approach to public safety and to develop positive, trust-based relationships with all segments of the community they serve.

2. Align policies with community values

For a number of social and historical reasons, different neighborhoods have different value systems and experiences relative to engagement with law enforcement officials. Local elected officials should take notice of the established culture and value system pertaining to public safety and create policies collaboratively with community members that are practical and appropriate.

3. Embrace new technologies

New technological innovations, such as body cameras and the use of social media in community engagement, can offer opportunities to build transparency, trust, and legitimacy into day-to-day law enforcement operations. Use of these new tools must be carefully considered, and a clearly defined policy framework must be developed to underscore the purposes and goals of implementation.

4. Prioritize community engagement

City and law enforcement officials should take a “big picture,” multifaceted approach to community governance. Much of this should center on building and sustaining the type of culture that is necessary for successful community engagement. This means working collaboratively with citizens to develop a culture and practice of policing that reflects the value of protection and the promotion of the dignity of all members of the community.

5. Invest in training

City leaders should advocate for adequate training for the law enforcement officers in their communities. Training programs should encompass the core values of the community policing philosophy, while also recognizing new trends and dramatic shifts in society, technology, crime, economics, and socio-political factors. Law enforcement officers should be oriented towards problem solving and de-escalation, and the practice should be guided by the numerous community policing resources available to them.

6. Remember to cultivate the well-being of officers

City leaders need to prioritize the mental and physical well-being of their community’s law enforcement officers, ensuring they have the tools to be at their best both on and off the job. This includes embracing injury reduction and mitigation practices, developing nutrition recommendations for public safety officers, providing ongoing physical training and endurance programs, helping officers develop skills for situational awareness, and, most importantly, supporting mental health treatment for officers and their families.

Yucel-OrsAbout the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

What the End of the “Get Tough on Crime” Era Means for Cities

This is the fourth post in NLC’s 90th Anniversary series.


The “get tough on crime” movement, emerging in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to enormous increases in drug arrests, longer prison sentences with mandatory minimums, more punitive juvenile justice sentencing and greater incarceration of juveniles, low-income individuals and people of color.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), about 6.98 million people were under some form of adult correctional supervision in the U.S. at yearend, 2011.  This is the equivalent of about 1 in 34 adults – or about 2.9 percent of the adult population – in prison or jail, or on probation or parole.

By the end of 2012, there were around 1.35 million people incarcerated in state prisons, 217,800 in federal prisons and 744,500 in local jails. From 1998 to 2009, the state cost of mass incarceration of criminals increased from $12 billion to $52 billion per year.

Today, there is movement to reform the criminal justice system and reverse the trend of mass incarceration of nonviolent and drug related offenders.  Federal, state and local leaders are looking for innovative ways to reduce the costs of criminal justice and corrections by keeping low-risk, nonviolent, drug involved offenders out of prison or jail, while still holding them accountable and ensuring the safety of our communities.

The Administration, Congress and many states are enacting new policies to slow the growth of prison populations and even downsizing corrections systems to save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Impact of Reform on Cities

As federal and state sentencing reforms begin to take shape, cities and towns will most likely see a considerable rise in the number of former nonviolent criminals returning back home.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy over 9 million ex-offenders cycle through local jails and nearly 700,000 ex-offenders are released from state and federal prisons every year back into their local communities.  This number is expected to go up dramatically as sentencing reform takes place. Without sufficient federal and state support for local programs aimed at transitioning ex-offenders back into the community, cities may see a rise in crime levels which will lead to an increase in recidivism rates.

The BJS estimated two-thirds (68 percent) of the 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years.  More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year.

Support to Prevent Recidivism

While experts agree that sentencing reform is needed for nonviolent, drug related and juvenile delinquent crimes, there is also a need to increase the level of funding and support for programs to prevent recidivism.

The Second Chance Act (SCA), signed into law on April 9, 2008, was designed to improve outcomes for people returning to communities after incarceration. The legislation authorizes federal grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to provide support and services to reduce recidivism.

In accordance with the SCA, in 2013, the Department of Justice awarded $62 million in competitive and supplemental grants to 112 state, tribal and local governments and non-profit organizations to reduce recidivism, provide reentry services, conduct research and evaluate the impact of reentry programs.

Grant programs authorized by SCA could get additional funding to support local government efforts to reduce recidivism, but only if the federal government does not divert the money saved from reducing prison populations to deficit reduction or other efforts.

Role of Local Elected Officials

There are a number of barriers that prevent young nonviolent ex-offenders from becoming productive members in their communities, including drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, unemployment and homelessness. Once in the criminal justice system, many of these young people will have criminal records that will last for decades, if not the rest of their lives.

When they are released from prison, many of them have difficulty finding a job and a place to live, and most return to a life of crime because of the lack of opportunities.  Thus, the cycle of recidivism continues, creating challenges and missed opportunities not only for themselves and their families but for the cities in which the live.

Mayors and council members across the country are looking at ways to support local programs that help ex-offenders re-enter into society.  One of the key challenges is to create an equitable and sustainable system that will provide opportunities for nonviolent ex-offenders to find jobs and affordable housing.  More than 60 cities and 12 states across the country have instituted policies that would ban the box on employment applications asking individuals about their conviction history.

Municipal officials play a vital role in reintegrating ex-offenders back in society.  They manage key functions of local government that are essential to breaking the cycle of recidivism, including law enforcement, jails, health and human services, housing authorities, workforce development boards, after school programs, and community development programs.  They also play a vital role in bringing together key stakeholders, community leaders, and faith-based organizations that provide many of the social services that are needed by ex-offenders.

The Urban Institute put together the Elected Official’s Toolkit for Reentry (2011) to help local elected officials develop successful reentry programs for ex-offenders.  In addition, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor published the Council of State Governments White Paper titled the Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies: Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Job Readiness.

Need for Federal Action

There is movement in Congress to pass legislation that will allow a pathway to sealing criminal records of adult nonviolent ex-offenders and sealing and expunging juvenile records to make it easier for ex-offenders to apply for employment.  Citing the need to embrace bipartisan solutions that lessen the taxpayers’ burden and increase public safety, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced S. 2567, The REDEEM Act (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment).

Additional policy changes are being considered by federal, state and local leaders that would lift the ban on certain benefits for low level drug offenders who may need medical and substance abuse treatments and examine policies that may prevent these ex-offenders from finding affordable housing.

On January 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder also convened the Federal Interagency Reentry Council  with the purpose of removing federal barriers to successful reentry, so that ex-offenders who have served their time and paid their debts are able to compete for a job, attain stable housing, support their families, and contribute to their communities.

NLC continues to work closely with other local and state government organizations to support federal policies such as the Second Chance Act to help municipalities develop successful and sustainable programs aimed at reducing recidivism and reintegrating ex-offenders back into the community.

Yucel-OrsAbout the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control.  Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.