SafeCities: Reducing Firearm Crime & Violence

Meydenbauer Center
Bellevue, Washington
December 1, 2000

Remarks by Pamela Johnson, Ph.D
Deputy Director
National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Thank you very much, Sheriff Reichert. Elected officials and chiefs from Seattle/King County, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

I am very glad to meet with a region that has accomplished so much to reduce gun violence and pleased to be part of your discussions of what more you can do working together. You demonstrate the power of working across boundaries and the power of communities working together to make a difference. I don't know anywhere in the country where the cities and towns in a whole region are working together on such a broad scale.

I am also honored to be here on behalf of Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR). At NPR, federal employees have been working for the last 8 years to make government work better and cost less. And the evidence is that we have had some success. As a result of our recommendations, we taxpayers have saved $135 billion and the federal government has downsized by 17% - - there are nearly 300,000 fewer employees than there were 8 years ago.

NPR has also been about working on another challenge - - can the federal government reinvent how it works with communities? Can we change the relationship between "Washington" and America's towns and cities so that we:

  • Focus on results that we all care about - - like reducing gun violence - - and measure how we are doing;
  • Celebrate and support successful community strategies - - because we know that no one knows communities better than the people who live there;
  • Connect communities with others working on similar problems - - to spread innovation & successful approaches - - because no one has a patent on good ideas;
  • Use existing federal laws and resources more effectively and foster better coordination across agency lines; and
  • Use technology to get the job done more efficiently.

We have done quite a lot to foster that vision. The federal government has eliminated a lot of the rules and regulations that hamstrung communities. We at NPR worked with Oregon and other states to find ways to focus on results rather than regulations. We initiated a Boost4Kids network to link innovative communities committed to enhancing child well-being and to streamline the delivery of services to children.


A year ago, in November 1999, NPR worked with a team of federal agencies and started the SafeCities network to extend some of these lessons to public safety. This network:

  1. Focuses on results. SafeCities links towns and cities such as those represented here today with others across the country all committed to reducing gun violence.
  2. Supports successful community strategies. This isn't about plans designed in DC; it is about federal agencies working to support locally-driven plans.
  3. Connects communities with others working on similar problems. When the Vice President announced SafeCities, he said his vision for the network was "to help link cities and communities across the country so that they can share best practices and ensure the safety and security of our nation's streets."
  4. Is supported by a team of federal agencies working together - - the Department of Justice, the COPS Office, the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and others. SafeCities isn't about additional resources; it is about using existing resources more effectively.
  5. Uses technology. Members of the network have met face-to-face a couple of times - - including last June here in Seattle at the US Conference of Mayors. And several cities have made benchmarking visits to another city to share best practices first hand. But we have also shared a lot of information with each other via our website - - - - through a list serve and in teleconference calls every other week on topics selected by the communities.


I think the network has accomplished a lot in a year. But let me emphasize the NETWORK - - it is the hard work of all of the communities - - with a little extra support and encouragement from being part of SafeCities.

A year ago - - we started with this book Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence that documents successful strategies from around the country. So let me use this book's outline as our checklist of what has been accomplished:


Promising strategies found that the most successful cities used data to understand their gun violence problems, choose a focused strategy and measure how they are doing.

I think it is fair to say that all of the SafeCities have a better understanding of their gun violence problems than they did a year ago. For example:

  • Springfield, Massachusetts mapped the destination of prisoners returning to the city and was able to focus on an emerging problem. Springfield was also able to map new American Community Survey data, the first city in the country to use this information to support public safety.
  • King County worked with ATF to trace guns used in crimes and showed the whole network how beneficial that can be. Your success was part of what led to a resolution endorsing crime gun tracing at the US Conference of Mayors.
  • Health officials in Louisville, Kentucky, Los Angeles and other cities analyzed gun injuries as well as gun-related crimes. And the SafeCities met at a meeting sponsored by the Joyce Foundation to guide the development of a national violent death and injury reporting system.


Of course understanding the problem is only the first step. SafeCities have expanded gun violence reduction plans that encompass prosecution and prevention. For example:

  • SafeCities have looked at other places with dramatic reductions in gun-related crime, including visits to High Point, North Carolina and discussions with leaders of the Boston Gun Project and Project Exile of Richmond, Virginia.
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky's mayors have led the development of comprehensive strategies. And Flint, Michigan's mayor is leading an effort to strengthen community policing.
  • Louisville, Fort Worth and Springfield are working with the US Attorney to expand and focus federal prosecution.


Certainly this meeting and the involvement of the mayors of this region is evidence that reducing gun violence is not just a law enforcement issue. One of the criteria for the original selection of the SafeCities was the involvement of the broader community. The SafeCities coalitions are stronger a year later. For example:

  • Inspired by the efforts of Rev. Jordan Ternae of Fort Wayne, whose own son was a victim of gun violence, the faith community has become more involved in many of the SafeCities coalitions.
  • A group of the SafeCities mayors met during the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Seattle last June. Many are more engaged in their own cities' efforts and are planning to expand their meeting at the next annual session of the US Conference of Mayors.
  • Federal and state law enforcement agencies have become more involved in Miami and other cities and the prosecutors are more involved in Eastern Michigan, Fort Wayne and Fort Worth.


The SafeCities network members in meetings and on teleconferences have stressed the importance of effective communication with the community and shared what they are doing. For example:

  • Fort Worth has launched a SafeCities campaign around the theme "Gun Crime Means Hard Time" and shared its experience and advertising spots with Louisville and others.
  • The Department of Justice and the National Crime Prevention Council has shared information and public service announcements on Safe Gun Storage with all of the SafeCities.


Every city has said that reaching youth is a critical part of their efforts to reduce gun violence. I just saw two items that underscore this. A new ATF study documented that 43 % crime guns recovered were from young adults under 24! Most from 19 year olds! In addition, the New York Times yesterday reported a new adolescent health study that showed that 25 percent of youth had involvement with weapons in last year - -even 7th & 8th graders. SafeCities members have done a number of things to reach youth, including:

  • Miami, Flint, Ft. Wayne, and Seattle are working to expand afterschool activities and holding afterschool fairs and Lights on events to get the word out.
  • Louisville launched an afterschool website so that young people and parents can find activities in the hours that are prime time for juvenile crime.
  • Other cities are planning activities and all want to do more.


As you know, NPR will be no longer play the convening role for SafeCities after January. However, I am pleased that it will be continuing as a strong network and as an interagency initiative. The COPS office will be playing a larger role and will host the website and network teleconferences and meetings. The network is planning a best practices meeting for SafeCities mayors at the January meeting of the US Conference of Mayors and I hope that some of you will be able to participate.

Finally, additional cities are interested in joining - - we are trying to decide how to handle success!

But most important, is the question of what is next here in Seattle/King County and in all of the SafeCities - - because that is where the decisions are made that can make all of our citizens safer and our families and communities stronger.

That is why I am so pleased to be part of this forum - - and I look forward to our continued discussion today,

Thank you.

This speech, which was originally delivered on December 1, 2000, has been expanded and edited for Internet posting.

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