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Safe, smart cities: Enormous potential but significant challenges

In our series of blogs about security in the smart city, we’ve stressed that cities must be safe before they can become smart—and stay safe as they become smarter. Getting policing basics right and building trusted relationships between police and the communities they serve is the vital first step, one that lays the foundation for introducing new technologies that can transform how police services and citizens collaborate to improve public safety.

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Once safe, cities can become smarter. As part of that, police services can become an integral part of a web of municipal agencies, departments, and connected services, sensors, devices, and data streams that help deliver a better quality of life to citizens.

The potential of integrated systems
This digitally powered integration can enable cities to deliver services more efficiently and effectively than ever. Research suggests that smart cities could cut daily commute times by 15 to 30 minutes, reduce crime by 30 to 40 percent, speed up emergency service response times by 30 to 35 percent, and even save 25 to 80 litres of water per person every day.1

Cascais, a small coastal resort city in Portugal with 200,000 residents and more than a million tourists each year, is a fine example of a smart city in action. To tackle the great strain on its infrastructure and services and to drive greater efficiencies in transportation, public safety, and other areas, Cascais is testing technology-based solutions that can be scaled to meet the city’s evolving needs.

In 2016, Cascais launched MobiCascais, a “mobility as a service” solution that brings together public and private service transportation providers. It allows users to reserve, manage, and pay for parking, bike-sharing, buses, and taxis using a card connected to a mobile app and a web portal. MobiCascais is convenient for users and invaluable for the city: the integrated platform manages Cascais’s multimodal transportation information in real time, enabling traffic to be managed much more efficiently and improving urban logistics overall.


App-based technologies are a useful way to connect citizens to each other and their communities. Cities are also discovering that a little gamification can help drive the adoption and usage of new technologies. A new Cascais app, for example, encourages citizens to report neighbourhood issues such as graffiti or burned-out traffic lights through incentives such as parking-meter time or local concert tickets. The Toronto Police Service also put gamification front and centre in a recent hackathon that challenged students and young professionals to come up with new tools to help police communities co-produce public safety more actively. The winning team’s preliminary demo and proof of concept far surpassed expectations, and development is ongoing.

Significant challenges remain
Smart cities don’t enjoy entirely smooth sailing, of course. Citizens are increasingly wary of how their personal data is being shared and used, and this can complicate efforts to bring new technologies online. Acknowledging these concerns, the cities of Amsterdam and Barcelona are piloting four projects based on an alternative model of data-sharing called DECODE (decentralized citizen-owned data ecosystems). DECODE uses a secure digital wallet and distributed-ledger technology to allow participants to decide what data to share, with whom, and how—and to change their minds whenever they want.2 The pilots are helping to demonstrate the value of allowing citizens to share their data in a way they decide; this trust, especially once the benefits of sharing are better understood, can in fact lead to even more information-sharing.

Managing the digital integration of multiple domains in a smart city is another substantial challenge. Cascais is piloting a centralized digital command centre (DCC) that currently integrates four domains: mobility, public infrastructure management, waste management, and civic protection and emergency management. The DCC provides data visualization tools, analytics, and near real-time information to help city administrators improve operational efficiencies and coordinate response efforts. The benefits can already be seen. Transportation staff, for example, are using their sensor network and data analytics to identify clear, congested, or blocked routes and share that information quickly with police staff; the police, in turn, are adjusting their own resources as needed.

Extensive broadband 5G mobile networks and edge computing (data-processing where data is being created, near the edge of the network, rather than in a centralized location) will be essential to capitalizing on the potential of the vast flow of data that must be gathered, stored, and processed in near real-time.3 But tight budgets and rising costs can make it difficult for governments to find the resources to become a smart city.

New thinking is needed, going beyond the public-private partnership models that have helped fund public infrastructure investment in recent decades. Governments and other public sector organizations need to be bolder and more creative in how they deliver services and other support. At the same time, private sector partners should be willing to re-engineer their own finance models to help reach common goals with police, justice, and other city agencies.

Perhaps funding can be linked to social impact. Governments and private sector partners could invest together to develop proofs of concept, with successful proofs allowed to be refined and scaled up without automatically triggering a re-tender. Cities and their service providers could increase the use of funding that’s based on rewards, performance, or results, which isn’t as commonly used in the public sector. Agencies and departments, even municipalities, could team up to centralize certain common services: for example, consolidating multiple 911 services into a single, central hub serving all jurisdictions.

Ultimately, governments will need to ensure they provide the finance mechanisms and delivery models required to pay for the technological innovation that supports the smart city—and the smart security and justice system at its heart. Advocating for change and progress without providing the funds needed to carry out the vision will only contribute to stress among our first responders, health providers, and city officials, and disillusionment and cynicism among our citizens. There has to be a better way to finance a safer city.

Because, as we’ve seen in this series, we can all benefit from safer—and smarter—cities. Let’s connect to discuss safer and smarter digital integrations and finance mechanisms for a city of the future.

1. Chris Teale, “Report: Smart city technology could dramatically improve quality-of-life indicators,” Smart Cities Dive, June 12, 2018, , accessed July 11, 2018.

2. Anoush Darabi, “Amsterdam and Barcelona are handing citizens control of their data,” Apolitical, May 22, 2018, , accessed July 11, 2018.

3. Daniele Loffreda, “Smart Cities 3.0: 5G, Edge Computing and Citizen Engagement,” StateTech, June 5, 2018,, accessed July 11, 2018.


Peter Sloly is a partner with Deloitte and a former deputy chief of police with the Toronto Police Service. He leads Deloitte’s National Security & Justice practice.

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