“Public safety will certainly be at the forefront of many of the issues that both the new administration and Congress address.”
Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference we will continue to feature “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlights as part of a series. This week, I sat down with Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors, program director for public safety advocacy at NLC.
Name: Yucel Ors
Area of Expertise: Public Safety
Yucel, thanks for sitting down with me today. I wanted to make sure our readers got to hear from you, given the executive order of sanctuary cities last week. Before I jump into that, tell us about your background – where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and why you are passionate about cities.
I’ve lived and worked at a lot of places. My family came here from Turkey when I was younger, and we settled in Pittsburgh, so that’s ultimately home.
After high school, I went to work on Wall Street for a while until Black Monday, the market crash in ’87. I decided a career in financial markets was too risky, so I left Wall Street to earn a B.A. in Political Science at William Patterson. After college, I moved down to Alexandria to work in the Northern Virginia office for Senator Robb of Virginia for a short while, and then got a job at a law firm in Washington, D.C. as a legal assistant for regulatory and corporate clients. When my wife got a job offer in Orlando, Florida, we decided to move to the Sunshine State, where I pursued my masters in Political Science at the University of Central Florida and then took a job with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, or APCO. After some years, APCO announced plans to open a satellite office in Washington, D.C., and I saw an opportunity. I followed them here and served as the director for their government relations office.
After that, I found myself at the National League of Cities. Cities are where things happen. Look, I’ve been a city kid my whole life. Growing up in Pittsburgh instilled an intense sense of hometown pride and that translated into a broader interest in cities. My interest in public safety is what really guided me to NLC. I spent a great deal of time with APCO working to provide first responders the communications tools they need to do their job, and that’s a big part of city life.
Right. Well along that vein, why public safety and crime prevention advocacy?
When I started at APCO, I didn’t imagine I would be this passionate about public safety. I thought my life would be working towards attaining a law degree and maybe someday be a professor at a university. And honestly, it’s largely because of my days in Lower Manhattan that I developed such a respect and interest for public safety policy, particularly in cities.
I wasn’t in New York in 2001, but I took the PATH train from Jersey City into the World Trade Center every day in my past life. Nine-eleven occurred while I was at APCO, and watching the news just brought back a flood of memories. It felt very personal. During the wake of the terror attacks there was a lot of discussion around public safety communications. My job at APCO took on a whole new meaning and became much more than a source of income. My day-to-day work suddenly had a tremendous purpose.
Thanks for sharing. That’s amazing that you have such a deep connection to the work you do. Part of the reason I wanted to interview you this week was because we’ve seen some updates in your portfolio over the past week or so. What do you think 2017 has in store for public safety policy in cities?
Public safety will certainly be at the forefront of many of the issues that both the new administration and Congress address. The biggest challenge I foresee is answering the question of what is the role of local law enforcement, and how could federal actions support or impede that role?
We’ve seen an effort to place federal immigration enforcement responsibilities on local law enforcement that could inhibit the ability of local officers to best do their job. I believe there is no such thing as a real “sanctuary city,” because no city is blocking federal enforcement agents from doing their jobs. Rather, we’re seeing duties of federal enforcement being placed on local authorities.
We can also expect criminal justice to come back up as an issue this year. As we move forward with policy changes, we need to continue providing local governments with the resources they need to continue reintegrating prisoners back into the community and limiting recidivism. That means that any solutions need to include policies on education, jobs, housing, etc.
And of course the opioid crisis is ongoing. We had major victories last year in obtaining federal funding for the epidemic, but more is definitely needed. State and local governments will need to demonstrate what they are doing with those additional resources, and highlighting the successes they’ve had on these fronts in order to secure more funding. There’s still $500 million in the air, and we don’t know if it’s going to be available in 2018.
Finally, community policing. We need to continue making sure that local governments are getting federal support to improve officer training, especially on how to deescalate situations, and have the tools needed to improve police community relations.
And of course, everyone’s favorite question, what’s your spirit city?
Oh definitely Pittsburgh. For sure.
“The ‘burgh,” so certain…
It’s not even a question. You know living in Maryland and being constantly surrounded by Ravens fans…
Makes life hard?
Very! Anytime the Steelers and Ravens play, I’m always outnumbered. But Pittsburgh is home. It’s a big city with a small hometown heart. Where else can you be surrounded by skyscrapers and still feel like you’re still on Main Street? I’ve watched it conquer many of its major past challenges, and I’m proud to call it home.
Join us at CCC and meet Yucel and the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!
About the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME