Crime, Jobs, Mandates: NLC Report on Local Officials' Top Concerns; Banks Calls Findings 'A Contract for Americans.' (National League of Cities President Carolyn Long Banks)
Arndt, Randy, Nation's Cities Weekly
Assuring public safety, curbing unfunded federal mandates, and building strong local economies are the most important priorities for America's cities and towns, according to the National League of Cities' annual opinion survey of municipal officials.
"This agenda-safety, governmental accountability and a sound economy-reflects what is most important now and for the future well-being of our nation's cities and towns. It represents a "Contract for Americans" that unites local government leaders throughout the country," said NLC President Carolyn Long Banks, councilwoman-at-large of Atlanta.
"These are local issues with a national dimension," she said. "When asked to select an issue they would bring to a White House summit meeting on the future of cities and towns, the respondents chose the same three: mandates, crime and jobs."
"Making progress on these will make the most difference, for the most good, for the most people -- far more than anything else, including tax cuts. That's because these are the essential ingredients for a real and lasting empowerment of our citizens and our communities, and that's where the future strength and prosperity of our nation begins," she said.
The NLC survey, conducted in October and November, found a cluster of public safety issues at the forefront of current problems and future concerns on the minds of local government leaders. The findings are based on responses by 382 elected municipal officials drawn from a random sample in cities with populations of 10,000 or more.
Five of the top six conditions identified by local officials as most deteriorated over the past five years involved crime and violence: youth crime, gangs, violent crime, drugs, and school violence. Three of the ten "most important conditions to address" in the next two years relate to public safety: violent crime, youth crime and gangs.
Unfunded mandates -- laws or regulations imposed on cities, but without funding by federal or state governments -- continued as the top single issue adversely affecting local governments. Mandates led three lists: conditions which worsened in 1994, which deteriorated the most over the past five years, and which were most important to address in the next two years.
Nearly half of the survey respondents reported improving local economic conditions for the second year in a row. At the same time, attention to economic matters remained a major concern for the future, appearing in four of most important issues to address in the next two years.
The survey compiled some stark findings about crime, violence and public safety. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (63 percent) said youth crime worsened during the past year, and more than half reported worsening conditions involving school violence (52 percent and gangs (51 percent). Forty-nine percent said drug problems worsened during the past year, and 41 percent said violent crime worsened.
Asked to identify the conditions which deteriorated most over the past five years, 35 percent of the officials put unfunded mandates on their "top 3" list, followed by youth crime (31 percent), gangs (26 percent), violent crime (25 percent), drugs (19 percent) and school violence (18 percent).
In a follow-up question about ways to improve public safety, the survey revealed a strong preference among local officials for a mix of strategies designed to achieve desired outcomes instead of focusing strictly on enforcement or prevention.
Asked to select measures most likely to reduce crime, the top choice -- strengthening and supporting family stability, selected by 64 percent -- reflects an growing sentiment that public safety needs to be considered in a much broader context than traditional anti-crime solutions. The next highest choice -- jobs and targeted economic development, selected by 48 percent -- revealed another facet of new thinking.
The next four choices -- more police officers (40 percent), after-school programs (33 percent), neighborhood watch programs (32 percent) and more police foot patrols (32 percent) -- brought in a combination of law enforcement and crime prevention techniques more commonly thought of. …