November 10, 2021
Local officials work at the level of government closest to the people, and with that comes great responsibility and great challenge. While public officials at the state and federal level have faced harassment and threats for decades, this trend has now made its way to cities, with local leaders on the frontlines of these challenges. Driven by increasing polarization, the spread of mis- and disinformation and the growing influence and power of social media, local officials face everything from racist, homophobic attacks online to city council meetings that devolve into screaming matches. The COVID-19 pandemic, racial reckoning and other recent national crises pushed many things to the extreme and threats and harassment against local leaders are no exception. While a certain amount of disagreement is a healthy part of a functioning democracy, civil discourse in America has been increasingly in decline. Eighty-seven percent of surveyed local officials have noticed an increase in levels of harassment, threats and violence during their time in office.While more than 8 in 10 surveyed local officials have experienced some form of harassment, threats and violence, fewer than half work in an office with a strategy to handle these incidents. This report sheds light on the impact felt by local officials and their communities across the country and offers a three-pronged approach to help keep them safe from threats, while maintaining their mental and physical wellbeing.