Liège, Belgium, November 2019 – Willy Demeyer, Mayor of Liège and President of Efus, led a delegation gathering police officers, social workers and crime prevention experts from the Belgian cities of Liège and Verviers for a study visit in the United States aimed at exchanging good practices with local authorities and practitioners, on 3-9 November. Head of Communications at the Liège City Hall, Laurence Comminette reports.
> Towards strengthened cooperation with a network of American cities
This exchange programme and study visit, which included meetings with American specialists in urban security, social prevention, the justice system, civil society and inter-faith dialogue, could lead to increased cooperation and a new partnership between Efus and a network of American cities.
A previous visit had been organised in September 2018 when a delegation of American experts travelled to Liège, with the support of the embassy of the United States in Belgium (Office for Education & Culture), as part of the City Pair programme of Meridian international, an American NGO that “develops exchange, training, culture and convening programmes that help leaders address global challenges and opportunities.”
> Nashville and Chattanooga, two cities in Tennessee that are developing an integrated crime prevention policy
The visit in Tennessee was first focused on local security and crime prevention and the collaboration between American cities and local NGOs. On both sides of the Atlantic, local authorities are keen to develop inclusive, local policies enabling citizens to participate more actively in the life of their community.
The second theme was restorative justice, which is practiced both in the US and in Europe and is based on empowering offenders to repair the damage they have caused in a safe environment, for the good of society.
> Fostering citizen participation
As their European counterparts, American local authorities deem important to foster the participation of local residents, in particular the young, in the life of their local community, notably through education and culture. This approach is known in the US as ‘community empowerment’. Indeed, it is necessary to include these aspects in order to foster peaceful coexistence, which is key for the development of any city.
> Urban development and quality of life
New residents arrive constantly in American and European cities from either foreign countries or rural areas. This poses a number of challenges in terms of housing, urban planning and social organisation.
Security is an important part of the quality of life in cities. American local authorities are faced with the same issues as their European counterparts in terms of management of public spaces, impact of social deprivation, need for community policing, and efforts to increase citizen participation, even though the legislative frameworks are very different between the two regions.
> Countering terrorism and violent extremism
The second part of the visit took place in Washington DC and was focused on security and counter-terrorism/violent extremism. The issues faced by local authorities are similar in this area as well.
How to ensure that all American police corps receive similar training? How to ensure that objectives and information are shared widely among all relevant stakeholders? How to foster cooperation with numerous and varied local actors whose social environment can differ greatly between cities, rural and suburban areas?
The Belgian delegation met with officials of the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, both partners of the NGO Meridian in this exchange programme between the US and Belgium.
Belgian officials said they are keen to collaborate with American stakeholders in counter-terrorism and violent extremism, notably because Europe must now deal with the foreign fighters who returning from the Middle East war zones such as Syria. How to manage these returnees and their family? Should they be repatriated and stand trial in their country of origin? Another urgent matter concerns the foreign fighters’ wives and children who are now held in refugee camps in the region.
> Liège soon to join the Strong Cities Network
In order to strengthen its capacities to prevent violent extremism, the city of Liège has decided to become a member of the Strong Cities Network (SCN), an international network of cities whose objective is to “facilitate systematic sharing of knowledge, expertise and lessons learned on building social cohesion and community resilience to prevent violent extremism across cities.” Liège has been contributing to the SCN’s activities for quite some time already.