- Columbia, MD is the safest city in America for the second consecutive year, according to research from WalletHub. Yonkers, NY; Plano, TX; Gilbert, AZ; and South Burlington, VT rounded out the top five cities, while St. Louis; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; San Bernardino, CA; Detroit; and Baton Rouge, LA landed on the bottom of the list.
- Howard County, MD — the county in which Columbia is located — experienced lower crime, expanded mental health services, increased school safety initiatives and expanded opioid reduction initiatives in 2018, as outlined in the police department's annual report. The county CIO recently launched the HoCoDASH (Data Analytics and Statistics Hub), a publicly-facing performance management website to highlight county goals and use data to measure performance. DASH is "an innovative way to ...remain people-driven," County Executive Calvin Ball told Smart Cities Dive. "My vision for Howard County is to innovatively expand opportunity and foster the best quality of life for all who live, work or visit."
- The report compared 180 U.S. cities on 41 key safety indicators in three categories: home and community safety, natural disaster risk and financial safety. The indicators run the gamut from assaults, terrorist attacks, drug-related deaths and hate crimes to unemployment rate, job security and road quality.
This research not only weighs traditional safety threats such as murders and crime, but also looks at how other factors — poverty levels, retirement plan access, personal bankruptcy filings, road quality — influence how safe and secure residents feel in their own communities. Howard County leaders recognize there's more to citizen safety, security and quality of life than raw crime numbers.
"It's not just about being safe, it's about people feeling safe," Ball said.
This spring, the National Association of Counties honored Howard County with seven achievement awards for its innovative and effective government efforts that strengthen services for citizens. Awards included initiatives in transportation, online utility payments and healthy eating programs. Howard County also hosted a summit of 19 leaders from across the country to explore how counties can positively impact economic mobility for all residents.
"We are working to not only embrace best practices but really be leaders in innovation," Ball said.
HoCo DASH is a way for citizens to see what data the county collects, how the data is used and what actions leaders are taking to ensure citizens' safety and security. It is helping to boost transparency and accountability in government operations and in reaching community goals.
Other governments — including those in Honolulu; Nashville, TN; New York and Chicago — have similar publicly accessible portals displaying slews of data from ride-hailing trip information to road construction projects to budget information. Citizens can determine whether they think leaders are on the right track and provide feedback or suggestions.
A concern with adding technology to urban environments is that leaders get caught up in the idea of innovation and data use, and lose sight of the goal to serve citizens and improve quality of life. Ball said Howard County strives to keep citizens at the heart of all of its efforts.
"Leaders need to do something that we're not always accustomed to, and that's just listen. Then take that information and evaluate the data we have. Be transparent and set that vision to be efficient, effective and respectfully serve all of our residents, businesses and visitors," he said.