How Law Enforcement and the Faith Community Can Work Together for Cities

NLC Senior Consultant Jack Calhoun lays out four steps city leaders can take to build stronger, safer and more caring communities by building links between police and faith-based organizations.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks to police and members of the clergy during a meeting to address the city’s gun violence at police headquarters in Boston on Aug. 17, 2015. (Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun.

Throughout American history, the faith community has played a seminal role in setting our nation’s value base, informing fundamental constitutional beliefs, providing basic services — especially in the medical and educational arenas — and leading seismic social changes including the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement.

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) are not only among the largest, most concentrated groups of activists and volunteers in the nation, but in potentially volatile situations, they play an important connecting role between the community and city authorities like mayors, councilmembers and police. In short, for America’s law enforcement community, FBOs can serve as an essential resource, both quantitatively (thanks to the number of volunteers) and qualitatively (as a trusted communication link).

The faith community can serve as a critical link between police and the citizens they protect and serve — and city leaders can build stronger, safer communities by taking steps to reinforce this connection.

Build a Trusted Link

Religious figures can serve as a powerful calming influence, defusing potentially volatile situations and even garnering a public show of support for the police. At the same time, they can serve as law enforcement’s most trenchant critics. And they can offer this support or criticism via the media, from the church pulpit, on the street corners, or at city hall.

But they can only do so in an effective manner if trust has been built over time, carefully, consciously, in a planned manner. If police turn to the faith community for support following an officer-involved shooting, for example, but no relationship has been built between the two entities over time, this response can be characterized as exploitation — or, at best, a barely-adhering band aid. This invites only suspicion and hostility.

Conversely, cities with embedded partnerships between the faith community and law enforcement or city officials typically do not experience citizen uprisings after officer-involved shootings. The essentials of this partnership: regularly scheduled meetings over months and years, and when an “incident” occurs, speed and full transparency.

Examples: after a recent shooting in Boston, the Reverend Jeffrey Brown noted that “within 24 hours of the shootings, they [the police] had footage of what happened, and they called the community, the clergy and NAACP representatives to look at the footage together. That is the level of transparency that builds trust.” In 2016, both Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, reported officer-involved shootings. The situation in Charlotte resulted in public outcry and heavy criticism of the police — but this didn’t occur in Tulsa. Why? The New York Times reported that the Reverend Warren Blakney, pastor of one of Tulsa’s largest black churches and president of the local NAACP, cited community trust in Mayor Dewey Bartlett. Blakney said that the mayor “has worked hard to establish ties with the black community in north Tulsa, attending Sunday services at African-American churches most weekends.”

Start with the Personal

Relationships between law enforcement and the faith community may eventually have to be formalized, but they usually begin on a personal level. Police worship in local churches or sing in local choirs, and peaceful protests in many cities actively involve the police, either as protectors or fellow marchers.

In Baltimore, clergy often ride along with police on duty, providing an ear for officers struggling with the chronic stress than can develop as a result of their daily work. In Boston, cops and clergy visit troubled students from Boston’s public schools. And in Stockton, California, Police Chief Eric Jones shifted town hall meetings to smaller settings, like living rooms, community centers and churches, in an effort to move his department closer to the community. Larger town hall meetings in Stockton had often became raucous and accusatory, but the listening process in these more personal settings confirmed and pinpointed many of the trust gaps and helped move the police force closer to some of its most disenfranchised and suspicious stakeholders.

Move to Larger Programs

Community Renewal International, a social services organization in Shreveport, Louisiana, builds large Habitat for Humanity houses in the town’s most crime-ridden areas. The houses are then staffed by people of faith who serve as mentors, tutors and directors of afterschool programs. Crime has dropped almost 50 percent in Shreveport’s target areas.

Another example: former Brooklyn, New York, District Attorney Joe Hynes launched his “Youth and Congregations in Partnership” program, which links volunteer mentors from more than 100 churches, mosques and synagogues to certain offenders coming through the courts. According to officials in the district attorney’s office, the program has cut recidivism significantly. Hynes also has a larger goal: to start the healing process for offenders and prevent “those who are hurting [from coming] back to hurt.”

Finally, members of the faith community in Portland, Oregon, intervene to stop sex trafficking in Halladay Park and help the vulnerable young women who are being trafficked. Because of the faith community’s close working relationships with the police, officers will often divert potential arrestees to the interveners as well. The group reports a 50 percent reduction in crime in the park. In gratitude, Portland officials provide the group with raincoats, vests, jackets and umbrellas for their work in the city’s rainy climate.

Incorporate the Faith Community’s Calling

In cities across America, the faith community has opened its facilities for sports, afterschool programs and restorative justice. It has mentored and tutored. Faith-based organizations can be found in the streets working with a city’s most volatile youth, connecting positive adult role models to disconnected youth, and linking community pain to city programs and policy through advisory councils to police and mayors. In this way, the faith community acts as a voice for social justice, speaking truth to power.

City leaders, and the law enforcement communities they oversee, can amplify this voice and benefit from the faith community’s calling to work for social justice and better the world around them. While they employ different strategies, and view their cities from different perspectives, both groups ultimately share the same goal: to build stronger, safer and more caring communities.

For more information on how city leaders can improve police-community relations, read “Building Trust Between Police and the Communities They Serve” and “6 Essential Tenets for Effective Community Policing.”

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 is the 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. His new book, Policy Walking: Lighting Paths to Safer Communities, Stronger Families & Thriving Youth, is available now.

Beyond Buzzwords: How West Palm Beach Is Creating a Lasting Resiliency Strategy

As part of NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience Program, the city of West Palm Beach, Florida, conducted a STAR Communities workshop aimed at identifying and prioritizing actions to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and the well-being of the people living in the community.

The city of West Palm Beach has set a goal to be the most resilient city in the state of Florida, and recently adopted a climate and resiliency policy which requires all internal decisions to consider the latest climate change research. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Cooper Martin and Lacey Shaver.

The city of West Palm Beach, Florida, is no stranger to the future impacts of climate change. Over the next few decades, the region’s sea level is projected to rise by up to 26 inches, and the entire state faces a number of hazards including flooding, extreme precipitation, hurricanes, thunderstorms and extreme heat. As the regional temperature continues to increase, it is expected to greatly impact public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture and forestry.

NLC supported the Sustainable West Palm Beach workshop in partnership with STAR Communities. Pictured from left to right are David Abell and Lacey Shaver of STAR Communities, NLC Senior Associate for Leadership in Community Resilience Shafaq Choudry, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, West Palm Beach Sustainability Manager Penni Redford, and NLC Sustainable Cities Institute Director Cooper Martin. (NLC)

In response to these threats, West Palm Beach has set a goal to be the most resilient city in the state for its residents and businesses. The city took a big step toward that goal earlier this week at a workshop supported by National League of Cities’ (NLC) Leadership in Community Resilience Program. The event was hosted in partnership with STAR Communities, and brought together city staff across multiple departments as well as key stakeholders in the community for a series of engaging, hands-on exercises aimed at identifying and prioritizing appropriate and high-impact actions for the city and residents to take over the coming years.

In December 2016, STAR Communities, a nonprofit organization that works to evaluate and certify sustainable communities, awarded West Palm Beach a 4-STAR Community Rating based on a number of factors, including reduced energy consumption, economic growth, accessibility of public parks, and increased food security. Now, after identifying gaps and areas of opportunity to improve their overall resiliency, the city is integrating STAR metrics into its comprehensive plan and working toward a 5-STAR rating.

The Sustainable West Palm Beach workshop. (NLC)

The city hosted the workshop to engage community leaders in the discussion around resilience in West Palm Beach. The workshop was attended by more than 70 community leaders from city departments, the county, state agencies, local businesses, nonprofits, schools, utilities, neighborhood associations and other civic groups. Attendees focused their discussions on low-performing topics from the city’s STAR baseline assessment, such as transportation choices, quality jobs and living wages, environmental justice, green infrastructure and greenhouse gas mitigation.

By the end of the day, workshop participants had identified more than 40 priority actions for the community to tackle over the next three years. The actions are based on best practices from the STAR Community Rating System, and include adopting new city policies, creating new community partnerships, and conducting outreach campaigns to educate residents and businesses about sustainability.

In addition to resilient initiatives already in place to increase the city’s tree canopy, encourage alternatives to cars, and utilize renewable energy, city staff and members of the community proposed many new strategies for reaching its resiliency goals. Some of these include focusing on workforce retraining, ensuring sustainable food systems are in place, and supporting current efforts to implement a storm water master plan and update building and land use regulations.

The efforts are part of a larger vision led by Mayor Jeri Muoio and Sustainability Manager Penni Redford to be the most resilient city in the state. Earlier this year in her State of the City address, Mayor Muoio laid out her plans to “all but eliminate” greenhouse emissions by 2050 and drive the city toward equitable development, increased economic opportunities, data collection and mobility. These goals have successfully attracted partnerships with NLC, the Knight Foundation, the Van Allen Institute, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative, and Gehl Design Studios.

About the authors:

cooper_martin_125x150Cooper Martin is the program director of the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

 

Lacey Shaver is the community engagement manager at STAR Communities.

Why the City of New Orleans Just Ended Cash Bail for Low-Risk Crimes

A new policy promises to save the city money and enable the court to tailor conditions to an individual rather than relying on a person’s ability to pay.

By choosing to reserve pretrial jail detention only for those who pose a real public safety or flight risk, the city of New Orleans is leading the way toward more fair and effective justice system policies in Louisiana. (Getty Images)

In the past, low-income defendants who were charged with minor municipal offenses in New Orleans faced a quagmire. People with charges such as loitering or public intoxication could face up to a month in jail before they even went to trial simply because they could not afford bail. Sometimes, these charges would not have resulted in any jail time even if the individual was found guilty. On any given day, three out of 10 jail beds were filled by people incarcerated simply because they could not afford to pay their bail or fines and fees. In New Orleans, as in many other cities, the problems within the system disproportionately affected minority communities. In 2015, black New Orleanians, who comprise roughly 59 percent of the population, paid $5.4 million in bond premiums, or 84 percent of the $6.4 million total.

Losing a primary caregiver or earner to jail for even three days can devastate a family with few resources, leading to a cascade of problems including eviction, job loss and possibly intervention from child protective services.

Jailing people only because they cannot afford bail not only hurts families but costs cities money as well. In 2015, New Orleans spent $6.4 million detaining people who were jailed simply because they could not pay. This equates to 3,947 people who spent a total of 199,930 days in jail.

In response to these issues, the city of New Orleans recently passed an ordinance which ends the use of cash bail for municipal offenses for low-risk crimes. While the legislation eliminates the practice of cash bail for most municipal offenses, it also meets public safety needs by providing exceptions for charges such as simple battery and domestic abuse violence. In these cases, the municipal court makes a decision to impose non-financial release conditions or, in rare cases, preventative detention. The new policy also provides exceptions for people who get rearrested or fail to appear for their court date.

Starting in April, people charged with minor municipal offenses, regardless of their ability to pay, will be able to return to their families and take care of their responsibilities while waiting for their case to come before a judge. Passed unanimously by the city council in January, the ordinance has the support of both law enforcement and community advocates.

Support from the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge helped the city accomplish this crucial change to our local justice system. As the lead sponsor of the legislation, I prioritized this reform to make sure New Orleans uses its resources wisely, reduces harm to families and communities, and protects public safety.

Read more about NLC’s efforts to support criminal justice reform.

About the author: Councilmember Susan Guidry was elected to the New Orleans City Council as the District A representative in March 2010, and was elected to a second term in 2014. Guidry has served as chair of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee throughout her tenure.

What’s Next for President Trump’s Travel Ban

The executive order on refugees has had a significant impact on America’s cities – but it could also be an indicator of how the president’s executive orders will generally be interpreted throughout the legal system moving forward.

(Getty Images)

Litigation will likely continue regarding President Trump’s travel ban, which prohibits refugees and other visitors from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Getty Images)

On February 9, the Ninth Circuit Court refused to stay a district court’s temporary restraining order disallowing President Donald Trump’s travel ban from going into effect. The executive order prevents people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days.

The states of Washington and Minnesota sued President Trump, claiming their public universities are harmed because students and faculty of the affected countries cannot travel for research, academic collaboration, or personal reasons. A wide swath of people are affected by this executive order, including refugees, legal residents, and visa holders who may have different rights and legal claims based on their status.

The government argued that the president has “unreviewable authority to suspend admissions of any class of aliens.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed, stating “there is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewablity, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the states are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the executive order violates the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, non-immigrant visa holders, and refugees. More specifically, the executive order provides no notice and hearing before restricting a person’s right to travel and “contravenes the procedures provided by federal statute for refugees seeking asylum.”

Technically speaking, no court has yet ruled on the merits of this case – instead, the courts have only temporarily prevented the executive order from going into effect based on their view that the government is likely to ultimately lose. The purpose of a temporary restraining order is to stop a likely unlawful activity until a full briefing can occur to determine if unlawful activity is in fact occurring.

In response to the temporary restraining order, the president Tweeted, “SEE YOU IN COURT.” We have every reason to believe the litigation in this case will continue, so what are the president’s options?

A run-of-the-mill case would now go back to the district court where the legal issues would be fully briefed. The district court would then issue an opinion determining definitively whether the executive order is unconstitutional. That ruling could then be appealed back to the Ninth Circuit and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court. However, President Trump has two other options.

First, he can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the district court’s temporary restraining order while the case is being fully briefed at the district court. This request would go to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who oversees emergency appeals from the Ninth Circuit. Justice Kennedy could rule on this issue alone or ask the entire Court to rule (which is probably more likely). Five votes from the current eight Justices would be needed to temporarily reinstate the ban. As Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog notes, “if the government can’t get those votes – which could be difficult, given the temporary and relatively narrow nature of the court’s ruling – the ban could remain on hold while its full merits are litigated in the lower courts.”

Second, instead of going directly to the Supreme Court, President Trump could ask the entire Ninth Circuit to stay the district court’s temporary restraining order while the case is being briefed at the district court.

Two other technical points about this case that could affect whether and how it is litigated are noteworthy. First, the travel ban only lasts for 90 days, so at some point very soon the litigation in this case could be moot unless the president extends the travel ban. Second, President Trump could modify the executive order to cure the due process problems the Ninth Circuit pointed out. However, this might not be enough. Washington and Minnesota raised numerous claims in addition to due process which the Ninth Circuit did not rule on for the sake of expediency. However, the Ninth Circuit went out of its way to describe, but not rule on, the states’ religious discrimination claim – which at the very least implies that the court thought this claim might be valid as well.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Reminding Washington That Cities Lead

Leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., city representatives held 42 meetings this week with federal officials, working to build local-federal partnerships and tell Congress why city priorities will help to move America forward.

(NLC)

(clockwise from top middle) White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Deputy Director Billy Kirkland addresses state league leaders; Maryland Municipal League President and Edmonston, Maryland, Mayor Tracy Gant and Maryland Municipal League Executive Director Scott Hancock meet with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); New York State Conference of Mayors President and White Plains, New York, Mayor Tom Roach and New York State Conference of Mayors Executive Director Peter Baynes meet with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY); Mississippi Municipal League President and Magee, Mississippi, Mayor Jimmy Clyde and Mississippi Municipal League Executive Director Shari Veazey meet with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS); State municipal league leaders descend on Capitol Hill for day of action. (NLC)

This post was co-authored by Carolyn Berndt, Angelina Panettieri and Ashley Smith.

State Municipal Leagues Join NLC to Advocate for Cities on Capitol Hill

This week, more than 35 executive directors and local leaders from 20 state municipal leagues across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. for an inaugural fly-in to advocate for city priorities on Capitol Hill and with the Trump Administration. At meetings and a briefing on Capitol Hill, state municipal league partners and NLC staff advocated for our top legislative priorities, including the tax exemption for municipal bonds, reinvestment in municipal infrastructure and e-fairness. Together we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that local leaders are ready to build local-federal partnerships that will help to move America forward.

The fly-in began on Tuesday with a briefing hosted by NLC’s Federal Advocacy staff, which provided state municipal league executive directors and local leaders with an update on the new political dynamics in Washington, D.C., as well as substantive updates on NLC’s 2017 federal legislative priorities. NLC President Matt Zone, council member, Cleveland, and NLC Executive Director/CEO Clarence Anthony welcomed fly-in attendees to NLC’s office and spoke about the importance of advocating for cities during this time of change in Washington. In addition, Billy Kirkland, the newly appointed Deputy Director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, addressed the state municipal league executive directors and local leaders and opened the door to future collaboration between the administration and cities.

On Wednesday, the state league leaders descended on Capitol Hill for a day of action to advocate for city priorities, including investments in municipal infrastructure and protecting municipal bonds, as well as introducing cities to newly elected members of Congress. In their time on the Hill, they met with more than 45 congressional offices across 15 states. Additionally, state league leaders and NLC staff met with staff directors of two key House committees to discuss issues important to cities – brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates – and with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau to urge the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting.

The day of action also included a briefing on Capitol Hill for senators, members of Congress and their staffs. Rep. Drew Ferguson (GA-3), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, spoke at the briefing about the need for stronger federal-local partnerships.

Local Leaders Call on Congress to be a Partner to Cities

This Thursday, NLC hosted a Congressional briefing, “City Hall 101: The Role of Cities in Moving America Forward,” to urge members of Congress and staff to consider the best ways to partner with cities to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. With a focus on the economy, infrastructure and public safety, NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone opened the briefing by calling on Congress to support local efforts to combat public health crises like the opioid epidemic, to give city leaders a voice in how federal infrastructure dollars are invested, and to protect the tax-exemption for municipal bonds that helps cities invest in infrastructure to grow their local and the national economy.

“Cities are the builders of America’s infrastructure. We are the creators of economic opportunity for our residents. And we are leaders in finding creative solutions to the challenges facing our communities and our nation,” said Councilmember Zone.

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, and a newly-elected Congressman, spoke about his perspective of coming to Washington, D.C. after serving at the local level and the need for stronger federal-local partnerships. He spoke eloquently about the role of economic development and education in helping to move people out of poverty and into the middle class. In closing, Ferguson said, “The health of the nation can be measured by the health of our cities.”

Christy McFarland, NLC Research Director, discussed two recent NLC reports, City Fiscal Conditions and Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism, which served as background on the health of city budgets, including revenue and expenditures, and the fiscal capacity of cities to be a partner with federal government. “City finances are stable. Cities are in a positive trajectory to growth, but city finances are vulnerable to economic swings. And the authority of local governments to raise revenue is often constrained,” McFarland said.

Council Member Zone was joined by Mayor C. Kim Bracey, York, Pennsylvania, and First Vice President of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, and Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee, Flaorida, and First Vice President of the Florida League of Cities, to share experiences from their cities on some of the challenges they are facing at the local level.

Mayor Bracey and Commissioner Ziffer talked about the impact that homelessness has on their communities. In Tallahassee, the city utilized a public-private partnership to build a homeless shelter that provides other wrap around services including medical assistance, mental health services, and job retraining that has become a model for other cities in Florida.

Although York is a city of 43,000 and only 5.2 square miles, Mayor Bracey shared the city experiences the same kind of societal issues, good and bad, that larger cities face. While crime is going down and homeownership is up, homelessness, particularly among children, is a big challenge for the city. Programs like the Community Development Block Grant help the city leverage other public and private sector dollars to address the issues.

As the conversation turned to the topic of infrastructure, Councilmember Zone said that cities need a diverse array of financing options in order to improve our nation’s transportation and water infrastructure. While private sector financing is critical for cities in terms of increasing investments, Councilmember Zone said public-private partnerships might work for large projects, but it will not work for the types of Main Street projects that are needed in smaller communities nationwide.

(NLC)

(NLC)

Florida Local Leaders Travel to D.C. to Advocate for Federal Issues Impacting Cities

City officials from Florida traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with members of Congress and advocate for key federal issues that affect municipalities.

The Florida League of Cities, led by FLC First Vice President Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee and FAST Chair Mayor Joe Durso, Longwood, brought 28 members of the Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) and three staff members to meet with members of the Florida congressional delegation. The advocates first received a briefing from NLC’s Federal Advocacy team, then traveled to Capitol Hill. During their meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, FLC FAST members advocated for the tax exemption for municipal bonds, federal infrastructure funding, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the FEMA Public Assistance Program, and e-fairness legislation.

(NLC)

The Florida League of Cities FAST Strike Team visited Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for city priorities and attend a number of key meetings. (NLC)

State League Directors and City Leaders Talk Brownfields, Unfunded Mandates with Committees

During NLC’s State Municipal League Directors and Presidents Fly-In this week, local leaders met with staff directors of several House committees to discuss issues important to cities: brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates.

NLC President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland, Mayor Harry Brown, Stephens, Arkansas, and President of the Arkansas Municipal League, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, Brookline, Massachusetts, and President of the Massachusetts Municipal League, along with Arkansas and Massachusetts state municipal league representatives discussed with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment the need to reauthorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program. The committee, which shares jurisdiction over brownfields with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is currently drafting legislation and will likely hold a hearing later this spring. NLC members voiced their support for addressing the local liability concerns and improving the flexibility of the program in the reauthorization bill.

Additionally, President Zone, Mayor Brown, Ken Wasson, Director of Operations for the Arkansas Municipal League, and Sam Mamet, Executive Director of the Colorado Municipal League, met with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee to discuss how unfunded mandates place a burden on local governments, particularly small towns with limited financial resources. NLC leaders also discussed with committee staff how to ensure that the local voice is heard throughout the rulemaking process. Recently, NLC compiled feedback from local elected officials on unfunded mandates and regulatory reform proposals at the request of the committee. The committee will likely hold a hearing on these issues later this spring, and is seeking ongoing feedback from NLC and cities on how to reduce the burden on local governments.

State League Advocates Urge FCC to Respect Local Authority

In a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau, advocates from the Georgia Municipal Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association, and League of Minnesota Cities urged the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting. The meeting was held in response to a public notice published by the FCC in December that requested feedback on the current state of small cell deployment in cities.

The state municipal league advocates discussed the widely varying challenges faced by cities throughout the nation in working to improve wireless coverage for city residents, while preserving their residents’ rights of way, safety, and city planning priorities. They also shared their cities’ specific challenges, particularly the proliferation of excess or abandoned pole infrastructure in the rights of way, challenges in balancing repeated requests to site wireless infrastructure in densely populated cities, while neighboring rural towns lack service, and the difficulties for local planning officials to acquire adequate staff support for processing of unpredictable influxes of siting applications. The advocates also provided information about the great variation between their states’ respective laws on city authority in wireless siting.

About the authors:

Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

Angelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follower her on twitter @AngelinainDC.

 

Ashley Smith is the Senior Associate, Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Ashley @AshleyN_Smith.

As Cities Become ‘Smart’, Public Safety Looks to FirstNet for Priority Broadband

“FirstNet is the first effort I know of where cross disciplines – police, fire, EMS, mayors, city councils – have all been united.” -Tom Sorley, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Houston, Texas

(FirstNet)

FirstNet is developing the first nationwide public safety broadband network to provide first responders the advanced communication and collaboration technologies they need to help them do their jobs safely and effectively. (FirstNet)

This is a guest post by Ed Parkinson.

The term “Smart Cities” is a popular topic in today’s urban jurisdictions – but what is a Smart City? A Smart City has technological infrastructure which collects, aggregates and analyzes real-time data which it uses to improve the lives of its residents according to the National League of Cities, report “Trends in Smart City Development”. But beyond that, a Smart City partners with universities and the federal and private sectors in using technology to enhance the quality and performance of urban services. Innovation can improve city services – from finding energy efficiencies and reducing traffic to fighting crime and fostering economic growth.

The Department of Commerce recently recognized the potential of FirstNet to improve public safety services. In their January 2017 green paper, Fostering the Advancement of the Internet of Things, the Department said, “the FirstNet network will be an incubator and proving ground for public safety focused IoT solutions by linking more first responder data sources, such as their gear, emergency vehicles, fingerprint scanners, databases, and more.” Here are just a few innovations some cities are considering to enhance first responders’ ability to protect their communities:

  • Detailed surge maps to analyze patterns and display predictive outcomes for severe weather preparations;
  • Intelligent street lights to detect gunfire and alert authorities;
  • Subway platforms with embedded sensors to monitor and flag overcrowding;
  • Smart grids: embedded sensors for managing water, gas and electric services; and
  • Providing real-time information on traffic conditions to determine the fastest route to an emergency.

Some added benefits of these innovations include:

  • Directing the city’s first responders more precisely and efficiently to improve emergency response;
  • Managing technology and personnel more effectively by providing intelligent insight into areas where they’re needed most;
  • Increasing responders’ situational awareness and maintaining their safety during emergencies to speed up the decision-making process; and
  • Improve interagency communications and collaboration.

As urban planners and policymakers think about their cities becoming digitized and interconnected, a challenge will be ensuring investments are made to withstand the growth in Internet traffic. Increasingly, these technologies will depend on wireless broadband networks so cities can communicate securely, rapidly and with priority to their responders on the street.

Signed into law on February 22, 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The law gives FirstNet the mission to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network with priority dedicated to public safety. FirstNet will provide a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communications.

As FirstNet progresses in its mission to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network, there will be many opportunities for policy makers and city officials to get involved and to make FirstNet a part of every Smart City.

The Smart City concept has grown to include at least 70 cities throughout the nation. The initiative includes federal grants in areas such as public safety, transportation, and disaster response. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) authorized $35 million in new grants last fall and over $10 million in proposed investments to build a research infrastructure for Smart Cities.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) also announced over $35 million in Smart Cities grants. FirstNet is ideal for bringing together the technology of Smart Cities to advance public safety.

Tom Sorley, deputy chief information officer for Houston, Texas, said FirstNet is “the first effort I know of where cross disciplines – police, fire, EMS, mayors, city councils – have all been united. Everybody’s come together and said, ‘We have to have this.’”

FirstNet is necessary to allow first responders to use the digital tools available to them on a reliable network, Sorley said. “This reduces risk. It makes the first responders and the citizens they serve safer. Data, more and more, is becoming that critical lynchpin in the service provision for public safety.”

Reid Vaughn, fire chief in Cuba, Alabama, agrees. “It’s often a challenge to get broadband services,” he said. “FirstNet will for the first time give us a mission critical, proprietary system. This will be a significant improvement for our rural communities. When everything is going wrong, this system is designed to keep going.”

Another key element to the efficiency of Smart Cities is the Internet of Things, which will extend Internet connectivity to items we use every day, such as light, electric switches and vehicles. Many in the public safety sector are looking forward to the ‘Internet of Lifesaving Things’ that will extend connectivity to responder gear such as body cameras and vehicles.

Key to making this all come together is collaboration between public safety agencies at the federal, state and local level, as well as public-private partnerships. Advances such as open data initiatives and the collaboration of research and technology to tackle key challenges – from fighting crime to providing shelter during a disaster – are most effective when working together.  Smart mobile technology, constantly driven forward by the marketplace, holds great promise for public safety as first responders strive to make communities safer. The National League of Cities, in its extensive work to share best practices used by Smart Cities, is a leader in this work.

First responders across the country will benefit from using next generation tools with prioritized, wireless broadband.  As cities continue to think about getting “smarter,” FirstNet hopes to work with them to be part of the solution.

To learn more and get involved, please visit FirstNet.gov and reach out to your FirstNet State Point of Contact (SPOC). You can also help by writing to your professional associations and ask them to pass a resolution in support of FirstNet, Following FirstNet on social media, and by writing a guest blog for FirstNet by contacting us at socialmedia@firstnet.gov.

ed_parkinson_125x150About the author: Ed Parkinson is the Director of Government Affairs at FirstNet.

Meet Your City Public Safety Advocate

“Public safety will certainly be at the forefront of many of the issues that both the new administration and Congress address.”

Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference we will continue to feature “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlights as part of a series. This week, I sat down with Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors, program director for public safety advocacy at NLC.

yucel

Yucel Ors is the program director for public safety advocacy at the National League of Cities. (Brian Egan/NLC)

Name: Yucel Ors
Area of Expertise: Public Safety
Hometown: Pittsburgh

Yucel, thanks for sitting down with me today. I wanted to make sure our readers got to hear from you, given the executive order of sanctuary cities last week. Before I jump into that, tell us about your background – where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and why you are passionate about cities.

I’ve lived and worked at a lot of places. My family came here from Turkey when I was younger, and we settled in Pittsburgh, so that’s ultimately home.

After high school, I went to work on Wall Street for a while until Black Monday, the market crash in ’87. I decided a career in financial markets was too risky, so I left Wall Street to earn a B.A. in Political Science at William Patterson. After college, I moved down to Alexandria to work in the Northern Virginia office for Senator Robb of Virginia for a short while, and then got a job at a law firm in Washington, D.C. as a legal assistant for regulatory and corporate clients. When my wife got a job offer in Orlando, Florida, we decided to move to the Sunshine State, where I pursued my masters in Political Science at the University of Central Florida and then took a job with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, or APCO. After some years, APCO announced plans to open a satellite office in Washington, D.C., and I saw an opportunity. I followed them here and served as the director for their government relations office.

After that, I found myself at the National League of Cities. Cities are where things happen. Look, I’ve been a city kid my whole life. Growing up in Pittsburgh instilled an intense sense of hometown pride and that translated into a broader interest in cities. My interest in public safety is what really guided me to NLC. I spent a great deal of time with APCO working to provide first responders the communications tools they need to do their job, and that’s a big part of city life.

Right. Well along that vein, why public safety and crime prevention advocacy?

When I started at APCO, I didn’t imagine I would be this passionate about public safety. I thought my life would be working towards attaining a law degree and maybe someday be a professor at a university. And honestly, it’s largely because of my days in Lower Manhattan that I developed such a respect and interest for public safety policy, particularly in cities.

I wasn’t in New York in 2001, but I took the PATH train from Jersey City into the World Trade Center every day in my past life. Nine-eleven occurred while I was at APCO, and watching the news just brought back a flood of memories. It felt very personal. During the wake of the terror attacks there was a lot of discussion around public safety communications. My job at APCO took on a whole new meaning and became much more than a source of income. My day-to-day work suddenly had a tremendous purpose.

Thanks for sharing. That’s amazing that you have such a deep connection to the work you do. Part of the reason I wanted to interview you this week was because we’ve seen some updates in your portfolio over the past week or so. What do you think 2017 has in store for public safety policy in cities?

Public safety will certainly be at the forefront of many of the issues that both the new administration and Congress address. The biggest challenge I foresee is answering the question of what is the role of local law enforcement, and how could federal actions support or impede that role?

We’ve seen an effort to place federal immigration enforcement responsibilities on local law enforcement that could inhibit the ability of local officers to best do their job. I believe there is no such thing as a real “sanctuary city,” because no city is blocking federal enforcement agents from doing their jobs. Rather, we’re seeing duties of federal enforcement being placed on local authorities.

We can also expect criminal justice to come back up as an issue this year. As we move forward with policy changes, we need to continue providing local governments with the resources they need to continue reintegrating prisoners back into the community and limiting recidivism. That means that any solutions need to include policies on education, jobs, housing, etc.

And of course the opioid crisis is ongoing. We had major victories last year in obtaining federal funding for the epidemic, but more is definitely needed. State and local governments will need to demonstrate what they are doing with those additional resources, and highlighting the successes they’ve had on these fronts in order to secure more funding. There’s still $500 million in the air, and we don’t know if it’s going to be available in 2018.

Finally, community policing. We need to continue making sure that local governments are getting federal support to improve officer training, especially on how to deescalate situations, and have the tools needed to improve police community relations.

And of course, everyone’s favorite question, what’s your spirit city?

Oh definitely Pittsburgh. For sure.

“The ‘burgh,” so certain…

It’s not even a question. You know living in Maryland and being constantly surrounded by Ravens fans…

Makes life hard?

Very! Anytime the Steelers and Ravens play, I’m always outnumbered. But Pittsburgh is home. It’s a big city with a small hometown heart. Where else can you be surrounded by skyscrapers and still feel like you’re still on Main Street? I’ve watched it conquer many of its major past challenges, and I’m proud to call it home.

Join us at CCC and meet Yucel and the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME