Helping cities fight crime and protect residents using analytics

There’s a reason why popular crime shows like NCIS, Matamata, and C.L.I.F. are set in major metropolitan areas rather than rural outposts. Cities are vibrant and exciting, but they can also be dangerous. Continued urban expansion and population growth mean that city governments must find solutions to new and complex public safety concerns, including terrorist threats, cyber-crime, gang crime and natural disasters and environmental hazards. So whom or what can we rely upon to safeguard our cities?

While there is no clear answer, technology is part of the solution.

Around the world, forward-thinking public safety agencies are adopting innovative technologies like biometrics, body-worn cameras and new forms of digital weaponry to protect citizens. At the same time, new data and video analytics technologies, which process large volumes of data and make predictions around future events, are rapidly becoming one of the most important pieces of the public safety puzzle.

In 2014, the London Metropolitan Police Service (Scotland Yard) undertook a pilot program in partnership with Accenture and used analytics technology to identify gang activity hot spots across 32 city boroughs. The twenty-week pilot merged data from various crime reporting and criminal intelligence systems used by Scotland Yard and applied predictive analytics to generate risk scores on the likelihood of known individuals committing violent crimes. The pilot enabled the force to analyse the networks and neighbourhoods of repeat offenders to make better-informed decisions on how to allocate officers and resources.

Undoubtedly, keeping citizens and cities safe goes beyond policing. 

Here in Singapore, Accenture in collaboration with the government made public safety the focal point in its ‘Safe City Testbed’ project. The pilot program used the latest video analytics technologies to identify street incidents and threats, and to alert the appropriate public safety agency and emergency response teams. Rapid response means first-responders will reach citizens before conditions worsen or maximum damage occurs. In addition, with data and live video streaming analytics, identifying unusual items or unpredictable situations becomes easier, improving the ability of public safety agencies to detect irregularities or potential hazards quickly, even in congested urban environments.

Border patrol agencies are also using data analytics and biometric matching technology to help identify persons of interest at airports, border crossings, and public events by matching a suspect’s unique biometric identifiers (face, fingerprint etc.) against databases containing the details of wanted or known criminals or those on travel watch lists.

Considering the potential benefits, why have other cities not embraced analytics across their operations?

Inexperience and fear of “data overload” may be deterring some decision makers while budget and cost may make others reluctant to invest in new technology. However, by undertaking pilot programs and partnering with the private sector, forward looking city officials are proving that it is possible to address the community’s most pressing public safety concerns, without incurring great expense.

As in London and Singapore, successful trials and pilot programs which allow officials to develop an understanding of which tools and capabilities best suit their need, support smarter and more cost effective future investments.

Another source of hesitation may be concerns over the interconnectivity of information management systems across agencies. Most public safety agencies do not have access to data accumulated by other organisations or civic institutions.  Incomplete data leads to lack of intelligence; therefore, interconnectivity of systems is necessary to ensure the best outcomes for officials and civilians. Without doubt, agencies will benefit most from deploying analytics software when broad-scale, cross-agency information sharing occurs to drive optimal insights and intelligence.

Public safety must be a collaborative effort between governments, city officials, and citizens. To successfully build safer cities for future generations, technology will and must play a major role.