Press Conference to Present Outcome Statement of Global Network on Safer Cities

14 March 2013

Press Conference to Present Outcome Statement of Global Network on Safer Cities

14 March 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Present Outcome Statement of Global Network on Safer Cities

A common index to determine which cities were the safest and least safe in the short and medium terms would be established within the next month, Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Presenting the outcome statement from a two-day meeting of the Steering Committee of the Global Network on Safer Cities, Mr. Clos emphasized the gathering’s recognition that a city tolerating violence against women would be unsafe for all its citizens.

An initiative of UN-Habitat, the Global Network was launched during a September 2012 meeting in Naples, Italy, to advocate for urban safety and the prevention of local crime all over the world.  Mr. Clos, recalling that meeting, said that 10,000 people from cities around the globe had agreed to establish the Steering Committee to show the world, in a practical way, that cities wanted to take global action to guarantee the safety of their people.  In the next 20 years, some 70 per cent of the world’s population would be living in cities, he said, stressing the importance of that effort.

He said the Steering Committee had agreed on the need for common guidelines as a programme on making cities safer in the coming years.  He pointed to three major focal areas towards that end:  the inclusion of a gender perspective; the importance of a socially inclusive approach to safety policies; and a proposed international trust fund to provide direct support to local authorities, who were in the best position to create, guarantee and promote safe conditions for the people.

Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, Chair of the Steering Committee and former Mayor of Mexico City, said that all mayors in attendance had said that they had found policies to increase safety in their respective cities.  For example, Bogota and San Salvador had reduced their homicide rates by more than half, he noted, stressing the importance of improving prevention, promoting community involvement and taking care of public spaces.  Gender violence was a catastrophe for the world and must be addressed.  “Nothing can improve safety more than people,” he stressed.  It was important to recover street life through urban planning that emphasized space and lighting, while creating just the right population density in public spaces.

Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston, spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Mayors, stressing the difficulty, in international forums, of defining crime across cultures and prioritizing those to target while comparing enforcement efforts when the powers of mayors varied so widely.  Nonetheless, a common metric and language to quantify and compare efforts, share best enforcement practices and focus prevention efforts would be created, she said, noting that productive opportunities and supervision for youth were the best long-term and most cost-effective prevention strategies.  Effective law enforcement required a programme built to create a culture of citizen engagement and human rights, she said.  The use of technology would be explored as a mechanism of bilateral communication, transparency and public engagement, she added, stressing that funding was critical to advancing all those initiatives.

Parks Tau, Mayor of Johannesburg, emphasized the importance of mobilizing regional networks, underpinned by the principle of ensuring greater community involvement, in working towards safer cities.  He also stressed the importance of community policing and the need to create a culture of accountability and recognition of human rights among police forces.  By sharing best practices as a network, cities could commit to acting locally while assuming global responsibilities, he said.

Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, noted that all the mayors attending the meeting had stressed the importance of prevention, the need for police also to obey the law, and the necessity for respect and promotion of human and civil rights.  They had all agreed on the need to work “from the ground up” to keep communities involved.  Violence against women was among the indicators of rising urban crime, he said, agreeing that a trust fund focused on best practices and community-based policing was needed.

Guilherme Pinto, Mayor of Matosinhos, Portugal, spoke for his European counterparts in reiterating the importance of prevention and community involvement, as well as the role of cities in security.  “Nobody can speak of human rights without putting safety in first place,” he stressed.  Preventing gender violence might become the means by which to measure the level of violence in cities, he added.

Bilal Hamad, Mayor of Beirut, spoke on behalf of his Middle Eastern counterparts and stressed two issues:  prevention, by moving development efforts into poorer urban areas in order to improve people’s lives; and reducing the power of central Governments in local issues.  Local authorities were closer to the people and knew best what they need, he pointed out.  He said politics should be left out of development, adding that local Government politics consisted only of development and projects that served the people.

Others speaking today were Norman Quijano González, Mayor of San Salvador, spoke on behalf of his colleagues in Central America; Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogota; and François Amichia, Mayor of Treichville in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Asked how to ensure that trust fund monies would go to local municipalities, Mr. Clos explained that cities already provided 80 to 90 per cent of funding for local security and only needed another 10 per cent.

Responding to a question about the lack of representation for Asian cities, he said several regional conferences would be held on that continent, which would have the world’s largest cities over the next 20 years.

Asked whether the Steering Committee had discussed police brutality, Mayor Villaraigosa said it had, and recalled that Los Angeles had had a federal consent decree entered against its police department due to its documented pattern and practice of abuse.  The city was now the safest it had been since 1952, he said, noting that its homicide rate had improved from about 30 per 100,000 people to about 7 per 100,000 today through “constitutional policing” from the top to the bottom.  “We believe that nobody’s above the law, not a politician, not a priest, not a policeman,” he said.  “That kind of policing has been one of the reasons my city is safer.”  The important thing was the existence of civilian-oversight mechanisms, he said, noting that the meeting had not discussed that aspect.

When asked about the prospects for investing in development when cross-border crime produced outside factors that affected local crime prevention, Mr. Ebrard noted that cities faced with such problems, such as Mexico City, Bogota, Los Angeles, Houston and Sao Paulo, had improved their crime statistics over the past five to seven years and their success should be studied.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.