The National League of Cities (NLC) released a 17-page report by the league’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, created to address police violence and inequities that have recently plagued communities across the nation. Mayor Ras J. Baraka serves with Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt as Co-Chairs of the 25-member task force, which includes nine fellow mayors.
The NLC and its CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony launched this task force in February of this year, with support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to address divisions between communities of color and law enforcement agencies and municipalities that led to tragic incidents of fatal police brutality in 2020, as well as to find solutions to bridge these gaps and unite people and governments.
“We are talking about wellness,” Mayor Baraka wrote in the report’s conclusion. “We are talking about holistic health in our communities. That is what public safety is all about – not just the absence of violence – but the presence of wellness. We need more than the police department to create wellness. Public safety has to be expanded and should be in collaboration with residents who live in their communities.”
“I am proud to see cities like Newark leading the charge on rethinking public safety and utilizing their influence to bring together stakeholders, to change policy and address the historic struggles that members of their communities face,” said Mr. Anthony. “It was great to see our task force members, co-led by Mayor Baraka, come together around these recommendations and guidance. I hope through this work, we will collectively inspire and support transformation.”
In preparing the report, the task force held what Mayor Baraka and Mayor Holt described in the report’s cover letter as “meetings and listening sessions – digging deep into what cities, experts, and communities were feeling, uplifting and doing to move toward a more equitable vision of public safety.”
“The murder of George Floyd was a turning point for our country, a moment that resonated with Americans everywhere, causing many to take to the streets in numbers not seen in decades,” the two mayors added. “As elected officials, we have an obligation to listen to our residents in these moments and to act.”
The report made five recommendations for change:
- Direct municipal government leadership toward providing safety and well-being for all.
- Balance the respective role of government agencies, residents, and partners.
- Significantly expand the use of civilian-led and community-based well-being and prevention-focused strategies.
- Embrace full and transparent oversight and accountability for law enforcement.
- Seek guidance and support from peers and experts with the assistance of NLC.
The report also spotlights Mayor Baraka and Newark for “repairing a broken and corrupt public safety system,” which resulted in the city not having a single officer fire his or her weapon in the year 2020.
The report noted other key achievements in Newark since the Mayor took office in 2014:
- The development of a police force that is reflective of the community in terms of demographics and values (more women officers, more officers of color).
- Recognition that more police on the streets does not necessarily equate to safety (reduced the size of the force and crime simultaneously).
- A focus on police de-escalation training and attempts to strengthen the local civilian review board.
- The reallocation of funds to create an Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery.
- Prioritization of the Community Street Team as an alternative to police response.
- Cohesion across system actors toward a common goal.
In describing Newark’s achievements, the report stated, “Newark has received national recognition for the steps Mayor Baraka is taking to look at safety holistically. Ongoing collaborative work across city departments and national collaboration via the Community Violence Intervention Collective provide ongoing hope for continued transformation in the city.”
The entire report can be viewed here.