Finding new and better ways to share information to help make cities safer

Public safety and justice organisations need better and timelier access to information to help them deliver improved services to their growing cities. Amber Stokes reports

Amber Stokes
Amber Stokes
By Amber Stokes on 08 July 2014
Finding new and better ways to share information to help make cities safer

This article was first published in the Summer 2014 issue of Touch

According to the latest Crime in the United States report published by the FBI, the estimated number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement in 2012 increased over 2011 figures. While cities worldwide work hard to reduce crime rates, the growing threat of cyber attacks also means that new kinds of crimes are entering their radar. Plus, with more than 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas today, the demands on city public safety and justice organisations are higher than ever.

As a result, police, judicial and corrections organisations worldwide have to rapidly acquire new skills and tools and also form strong public-private partnerships in order to combat the changing threats to public safety today.

Enabling full collaboration
“A paradigm shift is taking place in order to conquer these threats, where law enforcement organisations are setting up specialist units to focus on social media,” says Dr Andrew Hawkins, managing director of public safety and national security at Microsoft in EMEA. “A good example of this is the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) which has set up a social media centre for its 17,000 members. Equally, first responders are seeing the importance of social media to both warn citizens of disasters and emergencies and seek early warnings from citizens about imminent dangers to safety.”

Hawkins explains that this was witnessed during Hurricane Sandy when over 800,000 Flicker photographs were uploaded and millions of Twitter messages were sent to the emergency services. Furthermore, as seen in riots, social media can be used both to combat crime, and to plan and coordinate unrest by public order instigators. 

“In addition, we have also witnessed the globalisation of crime – which has led to more than 3,500 organised crime gangs operating in Europe alone – where the ease of travel across the globe has made crime mobile and increased the need for nations to work together more efficiently,” says Hawkins.

Microsoft is committed to supporting public safety and justice organisations in helping to make their borders and communities safer. Microsoft demonstrates this through the Microsoft CityNext initiative. Microsoft CityNext aims to address public safety and justice operational requirements across the life cycle, including inter-relationships with other government organisations and community groups within a city, such as ambulance crews, hospitals, academia, civil defence and disaster response teams, social services and neighbourhood watch groups. This holistic strategy is built on five key pillars upon which Microsoft and its partner community aim to deliver innovative on-premise, cloud and mobile solutions and services. These are:  neighbourhood management, surveillance systems, emergency management, intelligence and analysis, and court and judicial management.

“Multiple public safety, government and health organisations work hard to improve citizen safety – from first response, law enforcement, to criminal justice – and the key is allowing these agencies to work together, share information, collaborate and communicate in real time,”says Hawkins.“If cities can achieve this, they can enable fire and rescue, police and justice officers and officials to have access to important information at all times. This allows them to make informed decisions, which will ultimately allow them to respond quicker and more effectively to mitigate natural and man-made emergencies, combat crimes and prevent acts of terrorism – often preventing such disasters to occur in the first place.”

Hawkins explains that law enforcement officers can gather and collectively assess existing and new information to prevent crime, which requires better collaboration within and between police, fire and justice organisations. But it also extends more broadly to citizen and public collaboration and communication too: a neighbourhood watch group can share information with schools, police and fire stations; social services can share information with the housing department; and the police can share information with the prosecution and probation services. A great example of community-police collaboration is the cloud-based citizen portal set-up by the New Delhi Police to help people find their local police stations and know who to talk too.

But the collaboration shouldn’t be contained in the city or within a single nation. In the same way that Interpol works, police can provide other forces or organisations in different countries with digital evidence, sharing fingerprints, DNA information, photographs and details of offences to assist with international crime fighting. If wider real-time collaboration is made easier, then organisations and citizens can work together to make cities safer.

Enabling efficient use of IT
Mobile devices – whether they’re being used by a member of the community in a neighbourhood watch group, a fire fighter en route to an emergency, or a prosecutor in court – are undoubtedly transforming the public safety and justice landscape and paving the way for effective, real-time, multi-agency collaboration.

A number of OEM devices are an ideal fit for the very specific needs of public safety organisations. For example, Dell’s Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme convertible notebook and Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme notebook are ideal for first responders that need mobile access while out in the field. Where historically a police officer, for instance, might have to carry a pen and notebook with them and input information on a PC when back in the office, they are now able to input data in real time on a rugged mobile device, which can be made available to other people or organisations instantly.

“In situations where a rugged device isn’t necessary, we’re seeing many public safety organisations choose the Venue 11 Pro for its unique enhanced security features,” says Chris Browne, NATO global account manager at Dell. “While the Windows 8.1 platform already offers great security features, the Venue 11 Pro also has optional multi-factor authentication features such as a smart card reader and fingerprint reader that make it an essential tool in public safety.”

But there is another way that organisations can improve their efficiency and ultimately respond faster to situations, which is sometimes initially overlooked, adds Browne. “In order to ensure that first responders and law enforcement officers have access to the right information at all times, organisations need to optimise their back-end systems,” he says.  “Enabling more efficient IT can mean more efficient delivery of information. Organisations can present a better situational awareness picture where everybody sees the same set of accurate information when it’s needed, where it’s needed.”

Some public safety organisations might indeed be aware of the benefits that this can provide, but there are preconceptions that it is fraught with difficulties, which are preventing them from initiating such a project. For instance, some organisations might assume that it requires them to rip and replace existing assets. And some organisations simply don’t like the idea of jeopardising a mission-critical system that they depend on to run their operations. “Dell can demonstrate the many options that are available to organisations,” Browne explains. “Using our extensive solutions portfolio, rip and replace is often something we can avoid. Often, it is simply a case of enabling organisations to do more with their existing infrastructure and remove any duplication, in order to make their IT run more efficiently.”

Indeed, by improving the efficiency of IT, public safety organisations can ensure that vital information is shared more quickly and more accurately to the endpoint. But, Browne explains that there are many more benefits to this. Not only can organisations enable cost-effective green IT, but they can also reduce operational expenditure, which allows them to free up further funding that can be put towards other technology that enables emergency responders or law enforcement officers to carry out their work and drive safer cities.

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