After the demands the past two years have brought on policing, smart city technologies open a window of opportunity for law enforcement that is about more than just solving and deterring crime. It can also improve contentious community relations and mend a broken identity between the protectors and the protected.

By adopting smart city technology, police departments can become more effective by saving staff hours and costs and providing better service. This can build stronger relationships with the community.

A “smart city” is one where data collection by sensors and analytics are used to facilitate services for better performance, improved sustainability, lower costs and a decreased environmental impact. IBM defines a smart city as “one that makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimize the use of limited resources.” [1] Once the data is collected and analyzed, the results are communicated to city decision-makers so that they may take actions to improve operations and manage assets that citizens access.

Think of something simple like your waste bin that is picked up weekly by the garbage truck managed by your city’s waste management company. Instead of the city sending trucks on the same route week in and week out, bins with sensors would notify the trash company when a bin is full. This saves time and money for the taxpayer and reduces pollution. Apply this concept to law enforcement and personnel hours can be directed toward community policing rather than labor-intensive work, and officers would have more time to be in the community as more than just enforcers.

In 2018, the RAND Corporation led work to identify high-priority needs for innovation in law enforcement. A panel of law enforcement experts noted, “There is a call for practices and technologies to improve police-community relations. Very high interest in this theme is being driven largely by the social and political tensions raised in recent years, in the wake of officer-involved shootings controversies and civic unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and other jurisdictions.” [2] In 2021, after the death of George Floyd, this same argument can still be made, and smart city technology is leading the way.

Smart cities already deploy autonomous and electric vehicles complete with charging stations, LED streetlights for energy efficiency and better safety, and open-source data for governments to understand where resources need allocation. [3] Cities like Denver and New York City use smart city technology in the form of gunshot-detection systems[4] These technologies can not only enhance the effectiveness of the police but also facilitate closer ties between the police and the people they serve.