Police beat: the junction of safe cities and smart cities

Wed, 2014-01-08 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

As David Shamah points out in his Times of Israel article, many free WiFi networks come to be as a result of a specific decision by city leaders. But in the case of Ramat Hasharon, a city of 40,000 in central Israel, its expanding WiFi network is actually a byproduct of a broader Safe City effort to provide faster responses to catastrophes and emergencies and ensure public safety.

Ramat Hasharon is meeting those objectives with a network of cameras and sophisticated communications, from a zone perimeter security system that detects intruders and sets off alarms to a fiber-optic communication system that hastens the transfer of images from surveillance cameras installed in most of the city's neighborhoods. Panic buttons in schools and daycare centers are another part of the city's security initiative.

As Shamah notes, municipalities around the world are deploying smart city technologies to enhance crime-fighting and public safety. Here are a few more examples.

NYC's interactive crime map

Last month New York City launched a map that allows the public to search and access information on seven major felony crime types by address, zip code or police precinct and filter results for specific crime types.

NYC crime mapThe Staten Island Advance quoted NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on the value the data-driven map provides: "With unprecedented population levels, New York City is safer than ever, with homicides on pace this year to fall below recent historic lows. This administration has relied on data to drive its crime fighting, and this map helps enhance New Yorkers' and researchers' understanding of where felony and violent crime persists." 

Austin goes virtual with neighborhood watch

The city of Austin's police department and Travis County Sheriff's Office are partnering with Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods, to expand their outreach and neighborhood watch efforts. According to a city press release, the partnership enables city and county departments to use Nextdoor to communicate with residents via private, secure neighborhood websites, for instance, posting crime updates and alerts.

The Nextdoor platform, available both on the web and via mobile devices, is free to residents and the city. Each neighborhood has its own password-protected website they can use to get to know their neighbors, ask questions and exchange local advice.

“Public safety has always been a priority of mine,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “This tool will not only provide our residents greater connectivity to our police force, but will also help empower neighbors to keep their communities safe.” 
 
Added Sheriff Greg Hamilton of Travis County. “This is an important step to enable residents to easily participate in modern, virtual neighborhood watch.”

Montana jail uses video chat for inmate visits

The Yellowstone County Detention Facility in Billings, Montana is using a video visitation system that allows inmates to connect with family and friends via the Internet in their free time. Telmate, a jail communications company, provides the equipment and software and inmates pay a fee to use it.

Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office Lt. Sam Bofto calls it a win-win, according to a story in the Billings Gazette. "We don't have to buy any of it. It doesn't cost the taxpayers anything."

A portion of the fees from inmates go to the jail to help pay for things such as its GED and anger management programs and recreational supplies.

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