Bringing The Public Back Into Public Safety Through Citizen Engagement

Jennifer Belissent, Ph.D.

For some reason public safety has been a hot topic for me of late. I recently presented at ZTE’s Public Safety Summit in Dubai, where there was an audience of public safety officials and telecommunications ministry representatives from the Middle East and Africa. One element of the presentation that sparked interest and audience questions was citizen engagement. 

We often think of public safety in terms of emergency services – police, fire, and ambulance; and, for many people, public safety first conjures up images of the police chasing bad guys – likely the effect of too many TV shows like Cops or Southland. But as I defined it in a previous blog, public safety covers a broad range of issues that touch a city’s inhabitants: crime prevention, traffic control, health services, public infrastructure management, and any of a list of emergency services including those for natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding or incidents like urban wildlife sightings as well as fire or riots.

In order to better act as the eyes and ears of the city – particularly given the mandate of doing more with less – many public safety organizations are returning to a kind of community policing – through better engagement with citizens. This isn’t a new concept. 

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Making Smart Cities Safe and Safe Cities Smart

Jennifer Belissent, Ph.D.

I spent a lot of time last week thinking about public safety.  What is public safety?  How do you achieve it?  Well, it seems to me that it could be anything and everything; but that it’s contextual and different for all cities.   In fact, three different “public safety” articles jumped out at me as I was reading the International Herald Tribune one morning: 

  • City faces a growing threat from rising seas and floodingNew York is facing a combined threat of rising seas and increasingly severe storm flooding, putting streets and infrastructure along its waterfront at risk.
  • Traffic defies a revolution.  According to the article, there are about 2.2 million vehicles in Cairo, where licenses are generally awarded without a road test and drivers “often shrug off stoplights and traffic rules.”  Road accidents kill about 1,000 people in greater Cairo each year, with ½ of those pedestrians.
  • When lions roam the backyard. While North American cities have long dealt with “urban wildlife” such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons and badgers, fast growing cities in Africa increasingly face incidents such as that described in the story – a lioness and her cubs who crawled under a fence into a residential Nairobi neighborhood. 
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