July 14, 2021
by Sarah Wray
In a recent webinar hosted by Ignite Cities and the National League of Cities, the mayors of Philadelphia, Albuquerque and Waterloo discussed how they are approaching the complexities of managing public safety and the escalation of gun violence while responding to calls for police reform following the murder of George Floyd.
Albuquerque, New Mexico is establishing a third first responder department with a new community safety team that will work alongside police and firefighters.
The cabinet department to which recurring funds are allocated will be launched this fall. It will be made up of 100 trained professionals such as emergency medical technicians, social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, and violence prevention experts. Dispatchers will have the flexibility to choose a community safety response when it is more appropriate than a paramedic, firefighter or armed police officer.
Mayor Tim Keller said: âWhen officers show up, we know statistically that the likelihood of it getting worse, for whatever reason, is very high. We try to avoid that.
He admitted, âWe’re a little anxious, we don’t know if this is going to work,â but stressed the systemic and structural nature of the initiative.
âIt’s not a pilot program,â Keller said. âThis is in our 911 system; we try to integrate it into the fabric of who we are as a city. It’s real.”
As part of a public safety and police reform program, Philadelphia is launching a new triage and co-responder program that pairs a police officer from a crisis intervention team with a behavioral health clinician for some 911 calls. A new triage office aims to better identify and respond to behavioral health crisis calls to 911 and patrollers.
Quentin Hart, Mayor of the City of Waterloo, Iowa, who moderated the session, commented, âWe need to take a holistic approach to be able to change the way we provide public safety.
His town received a state grant to send mental health counselors on certain 911 calls.
âWhether your municipality is large or small, it makes a difference when we can think outside the box and create holistic models so that we can really meet the needs our communities face every day,â said Hart.
Data and technology
As part of this holistic approach, the mayors said technology has a role to play in public safety.
Many in-person awareness initiatives in Philadelphia for gun violence reduction had to be halted during the pandemic, but, in the face of an acute gun crisis, the city was recently included in the President’s Collaborative Community Violence Intervention. Biden. Local officials from 15 cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington, will meet regularly to share best practices and provide training or technical assistance.
Mayor Jim Kenney described how Operation Philadelphia Pinpoint uses data to identify crime hotspots so police can be in the best position. The city is also using tools to monitor social media to identify where crime could be occurring and affect officers.
“We have some ideas on what’s really going on there, what problems might be brewing,” he said.
However, he noted, âAdvanced technology is very expensive. And you have to make sure you select the right technology because if you go down a road, once you are halfway there, you are stuck. [either] finish it or start over.
The city opts for standard options where possible, the mayor said.
George Burciaga, Managing Partner, Ignite Cities, urged cities to consider new infrastructure-based public safety solutions.
Burciaga said: âWe want to make sure that if I’m on a street corner and there is a gunshot, the bus stops in that direction, people are alerted, the light becomes brighter, the data is collected, the police are dispatched.
âIn fact, we are doing it in about nine different cities across the country as we speak, and are finding effective ways to fund it. [at no cost to the city]. “
With fairness and impartiality at the forefront, this also applies to the way technology is deployed. Albuquerque is exploring the idea of ââimplementing automated speeding tickets via cameras and this initiative is being led by the city’s equity and inclusion department to ensure that the right policies are in place to prevent communities to be “watched or overseen”.
âWe are trying to link fair policies to operations,â Keller said.
Replay the event: