With approximately half of the world's population occupying urban centers—and that number is only expected to rise—the challenge for public officials to make their cities and municipalities safe is crucial. Adding the strain of the COVID-19 crisis, rising crime rates in major U.S. cities and the increase in national debates surrounding police reform, the question on how to make a city safe is as important as ever.

While political debates regarding public safety dominate the headlines, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technology, including faster, more affordable bandwidth, are revolutionizing the ways cities conduct surveillance and provide security. In major cities throughout the U.S., public officials are utilizing turnkey systems that integrate video footage, access management platforms, traffic monitoring and body-worn cameras into central high-speed networks. Such centralization allows for data to be collected from more sources and analyzed in real time.

The top five challenges facing cities and municipalities are:

  1. Providing city-wide security and surveillance

In the world of security, you can't have too much awareness. One benefit of a centralized surveillance network is that public officials can monitor and examine security camera footage throughout a city or municipality.

IP video has become more affordable than ever and is the best option for either installing a new system or upgrading an existing one. Having a robust, extensive network of security cameras that feed into a central data center gives public officials greater visibility of potential trouble and the ability to respond appropriately.

Manufacturers now offer turnkey video management systems (VMS) that municipalities and cities can customize and scale. An enterprise-grade VMS can support thousands of IP cameras with an unlimited number of clients able to access live and recorded footage from throughout the network. Cameras can include fixed, pan-tilt-zoom, 360 degrees, thermal, and multi-sensor models. In fact, a centralized configuration is less expensive in the long run for IP video camera installations.

Video analytics add additional functionality to surveillance camera footage. It is a technology that uses special algorithms to process digital video signals and produce an alarm when specific events occur, such as when someone crosses a perimeter or leaves a suspicious object behind in a public space.

While controversial to some, facial recognition software can match a person's face to existing data bases, helping authorities identify wanted criminals, find missing children and spot suspects at large public gatherings. In addition, when footage is released to the public, redaction software can automatically blur the faces of individuals who have no connection to the incident in question. This not only protects the privacy of innocent parties, but it can save considerable time.

Analytics can also capture and process license plates, as well as track vehicles passing through the grid of security cameras within a city or municipality. This can aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles, the apprehension of people with arrest warrants or the identification of people of interest.


  1. Greater awareness, evidence for law enforcement

Following a tumultuous year of social and political unrest in the U.S., police departments are under intense pressure to be more transparent. With the use of digital technology, they are able to maintain the integrity of evidence that benefits both citizens and law officers. Gaining situational awareness is critical in helping officers on the ground make informed decisions when responding to calls.

For example, although adoption of body-worn cameras has been relatively gradual in the United States, citizens now consider them essential for keeping police accountable. Body-worn cameras record audio and video footage to internal storage drives, as well as removable memory cards. The footage can be quickly uploaded, stored and viewed in the cloud. This allows law enforcement officials to quickly collect and release body-cam footage to the public in high-profile incidents, and it also act as a third-person eyewitness.


  1. Improving traffic flow and safety

The same enterprise security networks that police might use for surveillance are also vital to monitoring and managing traffic within cities and municipalities. As the world gradually recovers from the pandemic, major cities will again face the challenges of traffic congestion.

Traffic cameras and sensors are vital in improving the flow of traffic while also addressing the safety concerns of bicyclists, pedestrians and commuters using public transportation. For example, traffic cameras can detect wrong-way drivers, triggering roadside alerts such as flashing signs, and alert authorities on the ground to intervene before accidents occur. Cameras with multiple sensors can capture the full view of intersections and remove any blind spots, while traffic monitoring can give bicyclists priority at intersections and help officials set traffic light sequences to achieve the most efficient flow of traffic.


  1. Keeping campuses secure

With campus violence all too common in the U.S., securing schools, colleges and universities is paramount. This requires surveillance systems that allow security personnel to know the status of a given campus at all times. The ability to prevent assailants from gaining access to campuses is essential for the safety of students, teachers and staff. Access-control software plays a vital role in these situations where capabilities such as door-scheduling, user management, reporting and lock-down functionality help secure academic institutions from attacks.

Intelligent video motion detection can enable select cameras to automatically identify and respond to specific scenarios in real time, such as when someone enters an area that is off limits or when a gun or knife is detected. It's important to have a security system that can easily share a site's layout, cameras and recorded evidence with local law enforcement in the event of an incident. In fact, local law enforcement can be added as a user to a campus system, allowing them to monitor the campus surveillance footage remotely.


  1. Unifying technology under one platform

As cities become smarter and safer, they become more livable. The overarching goal is to be able to respond more effectively to the needs of residents. That requires comprehensive, real-time data from as many sources as possible.

Allowing different city departments to invest in proprietary technologies that don't "talk" to each other is a recipe for frustration and inefficiency. Web-based evidence management is stable, secure and accessible from anywhere. All files are encrypted and the batch processing of archived files can reduce search time to mere seconds. This also enables city departments to comply with audits and reliably produce documentation.

The benefits of a centralized security system include reduced capital investment, redundancy, lower maintenance costs, and the ability to utilize the existing technology infrastructure. In combination with all the other benefits mentioned, using a seamless, end-to-end approach from a single provider is the best way to assure that all of the digital content generated by cameras and sensors ends up in a central platform that is user-friendly, secure and searchable.


This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.