Newark mayor announces joint effort to improve public safety in cities

NEWARK, NJ — Mayor Ras J. Baraka joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and leading community safety experts on Thursday, March 25, to announce the formation of a first-in-the-nation association of community-based public safety and violence prevention programs.

The Community Based Public Safety Association will comprise key leaders and organizations representing major U.S. cities, connecting efforts across the country to help advance pathways to safety that complement policing and reform the criminal justice system at a national scale. CBPSA will work to secure increased support to fund and build the capacity of public health–based violence prevention programs, which are essential to achieving and reimagining safety, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. As part of its efforts, CBPSA will educate policymakers, elected and appointed leaders, and the public about the critical role community-based public safety organizations play in reducing violence, while working to professionalize the sector’s workforce through employment benefits and professional development.

“Newark has strategically invested in complementary community-based public safety and public health responses to support police in reducing violence and crime, and our city is the safest it’s been in decades,” said Baraka. “In June 2020, the city made an unprecedented decision to move 5 percent of the city’s public safety budget into a new Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery to provide additional support for community-based public safety solutions like the Newark Community Street Team, Newark Street Academy and the West Ward Victims Outreach Initiative that prevent and reduce violence by treating it as a public health issue.”

To ignite its efforts, CBPSA released a national study, “Redefining Public Safety in America: A National Scan of Community-Based Public Safety Initiatives,” which details the various programs, how they work to reduce violence and what is needed to bring them to scale. The timing of the report provides cities that are grappling with an increase of violence due to the economic instability of the pandemic with a road map for effective strategies to reduce violence and create healthy and safe communities at a fraction of the cost of traditional criminal justice and policing approaches.

“Most people think of police when they hear the words ‘public safety’; however, the public execution of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has created an inflection point on safety in our country,” said Aqeela Sherrills, the executive director of the CBPSA and a pioneer in the field. “If we understand violence as a public health issue, then we must equip those who are closest in proximity to the disease with the skills, tools and resources to prevent the spread and eradicate the root causes that lead to violence.”

The CBPSA launched with support from Baraka and Garcetti, whose administrations have invested important and significant seed funding in community-based public safety approaches in their respective cities. Together, the mayors and coalition of organizations involved in CBPSA will call on city, state and federal officials to dedicate resources, including newly received funding from the American Rescue Plan, to invest in community-based public safety initiatives, such as those outlined in the report. Examples include the Newark Community Street Team, Cure Violence, Advance Peace and the Urban Peace Institute, which have been demonstrated to increase public safety and reduce violence through a coordinated response with law enforcement.

“When we invest in community-based public safety strategies, our cities are safer, our neighborhoods are more secure, our families face less violence and our workers find greater opportunity,” said Garcetti. 

In addition to the mayors, CBPSA was joined for the launch by report co-authors and leading community-based public safety practitioners Dr. Gary Slutkin of Cure Violence Global, Melvyn Hayward of Chicago CRED, Aquil Basheer of Professional Community Intervention Training Institute, Julius Thibodeaux of Advance Peace and Fernando Rejon of Urban Peace Institute. They lead organizations that support, train and advise community-based public safety initiatives in dozens of cities across the country.

Slutkin, founder and chief executive officer of Cure Violence Global, said: “Even in the face of some remarkable successes, public health approaches to community safety have been greatly underfunded by government and philanthropy. Even philanthropy, with rare but glowing exceptions, remains still almost solely focused on justice reform rather than the complementary public health and community alternatives. These successful alternatives save lives in our communities and save money for our cities, states and all of us. We’re long overdue to turn this corner.”