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Security & justice series
To enable ‘smart cities’ to be safe cities, policing needs to get back to basics
By Peter Sloly and Lauren Jackson
Cities around the world are searching for ways to capitalize on exponential technologies, advanced analytics, and big data to deliver smarter, more efficient, and more cost-effective services to their citizens—and police services are no exception. From London, UK, to Vancouver, police services are exploring how analytics can improve crime prediction and reduce costs in the smart city of the future.
But smart cities need to be safe cities first. Because a smart city that isn’t safe isn’t smart at all. And making our cities safe means getting back to policing basics - before harvesting citizens’ data and adopting and investing heavily in analytics-driven policing approaches.
Technology’s powerful lure for police services
The rising interest in technology-enabled policing isn’t hard to understand. Police services face a host of challenges. Digital technologies are changing how people live and work - including police officers and criminals. The nature of crime itself is growing increasingly complex, and online criminal cyber acts have placed significant new demands on police services. At the same time, budgetary constraints compel police to do more with less. Demands for police transparency are growing. And, unfortunately, trust in police services is at an all-time low in many communities.
Analytics and digital technologies offer police a way to address many of these challenges. Technology can make it easier for officers to communicate and share information with each other and their stations, saving time and improving efficiency. It can make it easier for citizens to report crime or other concerns.
More broadly, the emerging field of “predictive policing” can use historical crime data, criminal behavioural data, police blotters, social media, camera feeds and more to predict when and where crimes are likely to occur. This enables police to proactively increase their presence in a target area and, hopefully, deter potential criminal activity. Police in Santa Cruz, California, piloted predictive policing in 2011, and experienced a 27% drop in burglaries and a 56% increase in arrests1. In 2017, Vancouver’s police department officially began predictive policing models to identify areas where residential or commercial break-ins are anticipated, following a successful six-month pilot that helped reduce residential break-ins substantially. The system sends officers to 100- and 500-metre zones around target locations; their presence helps deter would-be thieves.2
The risks of smart policing
Yet, while the potential upside for predictive policing and other data- and algorithm-driven approaches is significant, there are equally significant areas for concern. For example, those algorithms may reproduce the conscious or unconscious biases of the people performing the coding, selecting the data, or performing the analysis, inadvertently perpetuating systemic biases. Especially in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica–Facebook data scandal, citizens may increasingly object to the use of personal or surveillance data without their knowledge or consent.
Perhaps most important is the fact that algorithm-driven policing alone can’t establish, rebuild or nurture the all-important, personal relationships and trust between police and the people of the communities they serve. Without those relationships and that trust, it will be very difficult for police to obtain the public’s buy-in to predictive or other forms of “smart” policing. Moving forward with smart policing technology before communities’ trust is earned can end up damaging relationships further - not to mention leave cities, communities, and police services with an expensive investment in solutions to the wrong problems.
The first step in smart policing: Get back to basics
Over the years, today’s police services have come to focus much more time and energy on law enforcement—and much less on crime prevention itself. Enforcement is a mandated police responsibility, but one that comes with heightened risks and costs. Enforcement-focused policing is more likely to put officers and citizens alike in harm’s way, and it’s tremendously costly in economic and social terms. It leads to higher investigation, prosecution, incarceration and, in some cases, civil litigation costs. It can expose police to greater harm and more public and media backlash. It leaves jails overcrowded with people suffering from mental health and addiction issues, and it has a disproportionate impact on marginalized, victimized and racialized groups.
More to the point, law enforcement is only one aspect of policing. Ontario’s recently updated Police Services Act, for example, describes police services’ core duties as crime prevention, law enforcement, maintaining the public peace, emergency response, and assistance to victims of crime. Police exist to help citizens maintain public safety, not to simply enforce the law3. Effective policing isn’t just about arrests and putting people behind bars. It’s about having a public that trusts the police, has confidence in them, and helps them by policing themselves - keeping an eye out for their neighbours and speaking to police proactively to help mitigate issues before they escalate to actual crimes.
Smart cities need to be safe cities. Adequate, effective, and inclusive policing is key to keeping our cities truly safe. The current, enforcement-driven approach isn’t working for anyone - our communities, our police, or our justice system. We need to get back to basics, and there are many proven programs in place that show a better way to police our communities. Embedding professional, empathetic, technology-savvy officers in our neighbourhoods and giving them a mandate to build relationships can reduce crime and help facilitate truly community-focused problem solving. With this approach, officers enforce the law using common sense. They’re constantly building relationships with others to be trusted, respected community partners.
A fine example of “back to basics” policing can be found in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Former chief of police Dale McPhee, adapting ideas introduced by police in Scotland, approached policing on a simple principle: crime often stems from underlying social issues, including poverty, poor health, and addiction. Social problems, McPhee believed, aren’t solved with judicial solutions. So he brought together the police, local non-profits, public health teams, educators and civic leaders to develop non-judicial solutions tailored to the needs of those people at high risk of committing or being a victim of crime. The result of Prince Albert’s “Hub and COR” approach? A 37% drop in violent crime and nearly $13 million in cost savings.
There are other examples where police services have had similar success embracing an approach to policing that prioritizes fostering community ties, building trust, and using non-judicial interventions to prevent and deter crime. Examples include the UK’s neighbourhood policing program and Ontario’s “mobilization and engagement model.” Camden, New Jersey officials dissolved their police department in 2012, reforming it from the ground up with a new emphasis on community policing, de-escalation tactics, avoiding implicit biases, and getting services for the poor instead of locking them up.4
Technology can help police deliver on “the basics” of policing more effectively than ever - without tipping into the realm of Big Brother. Mobile technology can help officers connect with each other and members of the community. In Ontario’s regional municipality of Halton, for example, the Halton police service is introducing Canada’s first public safety wireless LTE network. The new network will ensure first responders are able to instantly access and share vital information, from dispatch information to maps, photos, GPS data and real-time analytics. Moreover, the new network means officers will no longer need to rely on commercial networks, which can be overwhelmed in times of crisis.5
Other “policing basics” technologies include apps that can be developed to allow citizens to easily report crimes or identify incidents or unsafe spots in their communities (e.g., where needles have been improperly disposed) to enhance overall safety and wellness where they live, work, and play. Data can be shared with municipalities and community partners in an open yet secure way that respects citizens’ privacy and enables collaboration on key issues to improve public safety and build public trust across the city and its various communities.
Build trust and community bonds today, reap smart policing’s benefits tomorrow
Gaining the public’s trust is essential to effective policing. Building close relationships with community groups can play a pivotal role in deterring crime and ensuring vulnerable people get the help they need and avoid the justice system. Police services that focus on getting these basics right today will lay the foundation for the successful rollout of predictive or other smart policing solutions in the years to come. Because a public that trusts in its police services and enjoys a positive working relationship with them will be much more likely to see smart policing solutions as a way to enhance what’s already in place - a mutual commitment to preventing crimes, helping citizens in need, and keeping the city and all its communities safe and secure.
The journey to smart safe cities requires that we start with basics of good community policing and public trust building. The rest of the journey will include many more opportunities and challenges, which we’ll explore in our next post.
A former Toronto Police Service deputy chief, Peter Sloly is a partner and leads Deloitte’s National Security & Justice practice. Lauren Jackson is a former senior manager in Security & Justice.
1 John Kamesky, “Fighting Crime in a New Era of Predictive Policing.” https://datasmart.ash.harvard.edu/news/article/fighting-crime-in-a-new-era-of-predictive-policing-342. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
2 “Vancouver police say new program would stop crime before it happens.” The Vancouver Sun, July 21 2017. http://vancouversun.com/news/vancouver-police-say-new-
program-could-stop-crime-before-it-happens. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
4 “Camden’s new day.” World Magazine, March 29, 2018. https://world.wng.org/2018/03/camden_s_new_day. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
5 “Halton police first in Canada to use dedicated public safety wireless network.” InHalton.com, October 18, 2017. https://www.inhalton.com/halton-police-first-in-canada-to-use-dedicated-public-safety-wireless-network. Retrieved April 16, 2018.