Ranking global cities on public safety innovation

Municipal police officers watch screens in the video surveillance control room

Seventy percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, according to UNICEF. That includes over 1 billion Chinese, 875 million Indians, and 365 million Americans. This mass migration will put an emphasis on developing urban areas capable of handling energy, transportation, housing, and economic growth, among other things.

In addition, as more people move, cities face a critical need to ensure public safety. Large urban areas bring together people from varying backgrounds, languages, and cultures. With these differences, there inevitably are misunderstandings, conflicts, crime, violence, and terrorism.

In a new paper, Daniel Bernstein and I examine the ways that digital technology, mobile networks, and integrated solutions help officials in 17 global cities manage public safety and law enforcement. The locales include Abuja, Nigeria; Amsterdam, Astana, Kazakhstan, Bangkok, Bogota, Colombia; Cairo, Copenhagen, Denmark; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Kuwait City, London, Madrid, New York, Paris, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Singapore, and Washington. We chose these places to reflect geographic diversity, representation both in the developed and developing worlds, having large populations, and in most cases serving as the capital city of a country.

Public safety ratings of 17 cities

Using 24 indicators measuring the dimensions of metropolitan vision, digital infrastructure, safety effectiveness, safety adoption, data analytics, and community engagement, we rank these cities on a 120-point scale. We find there is considerable variation from city to city in implementation progress and adoption of best practices. Singapore, Copenhagen, and London top the list of public safety innovators, while Abuja, Nigeria, Cairo, Kuwait City, and Astana lag the top performers. The former are places that have a clear vision, significant financial resources, and strong infrastructures. They generate positive safety outcomes, use data analytics, and practice community engagement to improve ties with the general public. The latter cities have not implemented many best practices and have resource limitations that so far have precluded significant progress.

In their public safety activities, cities face a variety of implementation challenges, such as poor funding, infrastructure difficulties, public resistance, a lack of technical expertise, as well as privacy and security concerns. Implementation of public safety solutions represents a major challenge, and it is crucial for city leaders to overcome these barriers to achieve the benefits of public safety innovation. Solutions such as CCTV cameras, police body cameras, integrated command centers using broadband trunking, social media safety alerts, and predictive data analysis show great promise as tools for law enforcement.

Taking advantage of digital technology

In our conclusion, we recommend a number of steps designed to encourage best practices and enable cities to take advantage of digital technology. They include:

Increasing budget for digital infrastructure investments – Investing financial resources in digital infrastructure and solutions pays off in improved productivity, competitiveness, and innovation. Many developing nations suffer from limited internet access, which makes it difficult for people to take advantage of mobile solutions and new digital tools for public safety. Cities must upgrade their telecommunications facilities so their residents and law enforcement can reap the benefits of technology innovation.

Overcoming funding challenges – The biggest difficulty in most municipal areas is funding. Budgets are strained as cities confront rising populations, public discontent, community disorder, and organizational dysfunction. Law enforcement must balance demands from a number of different sources and figure out ways to become more efficient and effective. Understanding how digital technology improves the efficiency of operations is important for city officials.

Implementing integrated command centers – Public officials need reliable and up-to-date information regarding law enforcement and public safety. Broadband trunking systems help agents integrate information from voice, data, and collaboration. Using broadband that brings together material from many different sources improves response times and public safety protection.

Building public supportLaw enforcement needs help from the community in order to solve crimes and prevent disruptive behavior. Yet in many neighborhoods, residents are skeptical of the police. They worry that law enforcement is unfair, unresponsive, or even discriminatory in their regular practices. What is needed is a community engagement strategy that builds rapport with local residents. Having a regular means of communicating with the general public is crucial to building the support that law enforcement requires.

Using crowd-sourcing platforms to encourage citizen participation – Crowd-sourcing has the potential to improve public engagement with law enforcement. Social media sites represent a way for the police to garner useful information and to test particular products before they are released to the general public.

Breaking down organizational stovepipes through technology – Many police systems are decentralized and fragmented, and not very good at sharing information with other jurisdictions. This yields organizational inefficiencies and an inability to effectively promote public safety. Digital technology represents a way to break down these stovepipes and create more integrated solutions. Collaboration creates possibilities for information-sharing and tackling crime networks.

Using police body cameras and CCTV cameras to improve accountabilityThe use of police body cams and CCTV cameras reduce citizen complaints. If officers and community members think the record of their encounter will be available publicly, it promotes honesty on both sides of the engagement. Balancing civil rights with law enforcement is crucial to moving ahead with this innovation.

Making data openly available and deploying data analytics – Open data improves transparency in law enforcement and promotes greater accountability and responsiveness. Researchers can identify crime patterns and help the police do a better job. Being able to see what is happening and how resources are being deployed builds public confidence in law enforcement.

Balancing privacy and security concerns – Privacy is a challenge in many places, and balancing privacy protection with public safety is crucial. Authorities must determine how to maintain the confidentiality of public information while also keeping people safe. The public places a high value both on privacy and security.

Read the full paper, “Benefits and Best Practices of Safe City Innovation”, here.