Smart policing: using video technology to enhance city safety

April 16, 2024

As urban populations increase and crime rates rise, traditional policing methods are not enough. With escalating challenges and more sophisticated criminals, 'smart policing' emerges as a crucial, innovative strategy. By moving from a reactive to a more proactive approach, smart policing proves to be more effective, addressing issues before they escalate.

What is smart policing?

Smart policing is about moving from a reactive approach, where police respond to incidents when they occur, to a proactive one, where the focus is on preventing issues before they arise. It's about leveraging technology and data to improve public safety, streamline operations, and build a foundation of trust within the community.  

The evolution of city policing 

The beat cop patrolling the neighborhood, the two-way dispatch radio, and the reliance on community tips to solve crimes – these were the old-school ways of policing, designed for simpler times. As cities expanded and populations grew, crime rates also surged. It quickly became clear that these traditional tools were inadequate and needed an upgrade. 

We are now at a point where technology is fast becoming a central pillar of modern policing. This evolution from reactive to proactive policing means adopting new tools and having a fundamental change in mindset. It's about recognizing that in our always-connected world, the answers to some of the most pressing challenges in policing lie in video technology and in data. Moreover, there is an increasing expectation from the community for police to use advanced technologies to uphold or even improve safety standards. 

Video technology in policing 

Video technology has revolutionized the way we look at safety. More than just cameras mounted on street corners, these extra "eyes" on our streets are part of a sophisticated virtual network that goes beyond mere observation. These systems can analyze, interpret, and help us respond with speed. 

Not so long ago, ensuring safety meant relying on the limited viewpoint of ‘dumb’ cameras. But those days of passive monitoring are over. Very little escapes the watchful gaze of today’s ‘smart’ cameras.  They aren't just recording; they're actively processing video data through video analytics. This technology analyzes patterns and behaviors, offering insights that can preempt incidents and fundamentally change our approach to city safety. 

There are plenty of examples where cities worldwide are actively leveraging video technology to boost public safety. From identifying lost children in malls to tracking vehicles associated with criminal activities across vast urban areas, video technology is not only improving response times but also providing city police with actionable insights. 

Enhanced surveillance and crime deterrence 

The shift from traditional policing to a more proactive, technology-based approach marks a significant evolution in how cities manage safety and tackle crime. Video technology extends policing capabilities way beyond the limitations of the human eye. It enables monitoring that's both far reaching and precise. Today, potential criminals think twice before acting, knowing that their actions are likely being watched. 

City authorities are discovering that the real advantage lies in deploying video technology and using it smartly. By integrating advanced analytics with their existing video management systems, they're significantly boosting their crime-fighting effectiveness. This approach transforms traditional video monitoring into a proactive tool, providing actionable insights that enhance city safety. 

Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, has significantly reduced crimes such as kidnappings, pickpocketing, vehicular homicides, and armed robberies by revamping their video technology network. Read more about it here. 

 Today, police departments can uncover patterns and extract insights from data to predict potential crimes and act before they occur. They're hiring data specialists, who are experts in making the most out of video data. For instance, police can now use analytics to predict where break-ins are likely to occur. By stationing officers in those areas, they successfully prevent them from happening. This data-driven strategy enhances safety and proves cost-effective. By allocating resources where and when they're needed most, police efforts align with real-world demands. This approach leads to a smarter, more efficient operation, fostering a secure and trusting community. 

Community engagement and trust building 

A successful police force is one that earns the community's trust, respect, and collaborates closely with them. Body-worn cameras play a pivotal role in achieving this. In fact, many agencies across the US are using body-worn cameras to improve their policing.  
Body-worn cameras have the potential to strengthen public trust in law enforcement, lower the number of citizen complaints, defend officers against false accusations, increase accountability, and improve officer training and evaluation. 

When a Texas police officer was advising two children and their mother to buckle up in a mall parking lot, gunfire erupted. The officer swiftly ushered them to safety as the situation escalated. Later, body camera footage showed the officer confronting and stopping a mass shooter, saving countless lives. It is such courageous acts that demonstrate the dedication of law enforcement in protecting communities and inspire confidence in the police force and build trust.  

Video technology extends beyond surveillance, offering a treasure trove of video data that can be harnessed for the benefit of the community. When analytics from video data pinpoint poorly lit alleys as hotspots for suspicious activities, it enables law enforcement to initiate projects that can transform these areas into well-lit community spaces. Or convert neglected areas into vibrant parks, making neighborhoods safer and more inviting. 

Real-time response and crisis management 

Whether it's a protest turning tense or a natural disaster like a flood, the ability to act quickly can make all the difference. Modern city police are turning to video technology to gain an edge during these critical moments. Body-worn cameras and drones can provide crucial live video feeds that guide swift actions. With the added advantage of knowing the exact GPS locations of cameras, police can deploy assistance exactly where it’s needed. This ensures a quick, informed, and effective response during emergencies. 

Drones elevate this capability, offering a bird's-eye view of events as they unfold. Whether it's overseeing a large public gathering or navigating the aftermath of an earthquake, drones deliver unmatched perspectives that ground-based operations can't, enhancing situational awareness and aiding in effective crowd management and emergency response. 
Every year in Nijmegen, Netherlands, the international four-day march, renowned as the world's largest multiple-day walking event, takes place. While the route has stationary cameras, body-worn cameras have been integrated to help authorities maintain comprehensive security.  

Video analytics play a crucial role in monitoring city roads, instantly identifying incidents from traffic bottlenecks to unexpected roadblocks. This real-time data allows for immediate action—whether it’s redirecting traffic, alerting emergency services, or even providing alternate routes to avoid delays. 

The integration of video insights into dashboards offers law enforcement a comprehensive overview of city dynamics—from spotting trends that guide resource allocation to operational strategies.  This blend of technology and data ensures cities can manage crises effectively.  
Additionally, it promotes a safer, more responsive urban environment. While transparency in decisions related to resource use builds trust among the tax-paying public, reinforcing community trust. 

Data-driven insights 

With so much data available, police need an efficient way to sort through it and find what matters, quickly. Dashboards help a lot with this, pulling out and graphically presenting the important bits from lots of information. This change means police are getting ahead of problems before they start. By looking at video data, police can predict and prevent issues before they become bigger, making cities safer. 

This means looking at patterns – like where accidents happen most or when crimes spike – to make smarter decisions about where officers should be, and when. For example, by keeping an eye on traffic data, police can spot a risky intersection and act before more accidents happen. Or, by analyzing data from past events, they can figure out the best ways to keep big crowds safe. 

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) uses the Domain Awareness System (DAS) to support officer decision-making and enhance public safety. Originally developed for counterterrorism, the DAS provides tailored data and analytics to officers – in every precinct and on their smartphones. By leveraging analytics, the DAS enables better situational awareness, helps in patrol deployment, and provides insights on crime trends. The DAS saves the NYPD at least 50 million USD a year through more efficient use of staff. The NYPD uses it every day to save lives, arrest criminals, and better serve the public. 

Today, smart policing hinges on the integration of various technology systems. Rather than depending on a standalone solution, the focus is on building a network where different technologies work together.  By drawing on data from these interconnected sources, police can gain a fuller understanding of city dynamics, making smarter, quicker decisions for public safety and governance. 

The challenges and considerations of smart policing 

As police departments around the world embrace smart policing, they also navigate a landscape filled with challenges. Concerns about privacy and the responsible use of technology are at the forefront. Additionally, cybersecurity emerges as a critical issue, alongside the need for tech readiness.  
Smart policing also requires a wider range of skills, including data analysis, but most police departments are not yet focusing on recruiting people with these new skill sets. Also, choosing the right technology provider, one that values responsibility and ethics, is critical in this journey. 

City police must strike a balance between enhancing public safety and protecting individual rights. This means ensuring transparency in how video data is collected, used, and stored. And making sure there's a clear policy in place to respect privacy laws and build public trust.  
Today, we have the mechanisms to ensure compliance with privacy laws. Modern video technology squarely focuses on analyzing patterns and behaviors; and emphasizes that personal identities are not the object of scrutiny. This approach builds public trust and ensures that measures to protect privacy are in place. 

Another challenge is tech readiness. Adopting a tech-driven approach to policing goes beyond procuring shiny new tools; it requires a cultural shift within the department. Officers need to be trained to use these technologies effectively, people with new skill sets need to be recruited and there must be a strategy in place for integrating data and insights into daily operations.  
It's a long-term investment that demands both time and resources, but promises significant returns in enhanced safety, efficiency, and community trust. 

Future trends and innovations 

The future of smart policing is being led by rapid advancements in video technology – moving through stages of aggregation, automation, and ultimately, augmentation. 

Aggregation began with collecting video data from numerous cameras and sensors across a city. This phase laid the essential groundwork for comprehensive surveillance but also highlighted the challenge of managing vast amounts of footage. 

Currently, automation involves using advanced analytics for a smarter interpretation of video feeds. This focuses on pattern recognition and predictive analysis, significantly improving response times and resource allocation by making the available data actionable. Automating tasks that were previously done manually helped cut down on human error and get things done quicker. This means police can respond faster and use their resources better. 

Augmentation promises to be the next big leap in smart policing. It involves integrating AI, drones, IoT, and other technologies to further enhance policing capabilities. The future will see AI providing deeper data insights for predictive policing, drones offering comprehensive aerial surveillance, and IoT devices enriching operational intelligence.  

This stage will emphasize the human aspects of policing, enabling officers to perform their duties with greater efficiency and foresight. In the very near future, smart policing will evolve into a proactive, predictive approach that uses technology to serve the community better, ensuring safety, transparency and most importantly, building trust. 

What’s next for cities? 

Smart policing is leading the march towards smarter, safer cities. By embracing video technology and advanced analytics, police departments are not only enhancing their ability to respond to incidents but are also reshaping the landscape of community trust.  
The promise of a future where AI, drones, and IoT work in concert with law enforcement is not too far off — a future where technology serves as a tool of surveillance and as a bridge to community engagement, transparency, and trust. 

And this will only be possible when a balance is struck between vigilance and privacy, and between rapid response and ethical governance. And embracing responsible technology is key to leveraging these innovations for the greater good. 


Milestone Systems is a trusted provider of reliable video technology that is easy to use, making it an ideal solution for city police departments seeking to enhance safety and build community trust. XProtect, our video management software, can help city police move from a reactive approach to a proactive one to keep streets and roads safe and strengthen community ties. 

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