Policing for smart cities

By Masud Khabeki


Policing has been around for centuries and the tasks of police have not changed much over the millennia. The growth in policing can be seen in three stages starting from Informal policing, where all members of a society equally share the responsibility for providing protection and keeping order. Then we have seen a phase where the job of maintaining law and order was assigned to particular group of people. This phase is called Transitional policing. While the third phase is known as formal policing, where specific members of the community assume formal responsibility for protection and the maintenance of social control neighborhoods.

In early historical times, there were people to ensure the safety of citizens and property, but a well-organized police force does not seem to have existed. In ancient Egypt, early guards and watchmen may have been, at least in part, purely local answers to security concerns. They may have been employed by private persons and local institutions. During the Middle and New Kingdoms, however, a nationwide police force grew out of the semi-military units securing the borders. As the population increased and crime began to rise, steps to improve policing were taken across the world. From 1066 to the 1300s in England, police services were provided through the frankpledge system. Under this system, citizens were appointed with the responsibility of maintaining order and controlling crime. During the 1700s, the foundations of modern policing were laid. The Bow Street Runners in England was the first group paid through public funds that emphasized crime prevention in addition to crime investigation and apprehension of criminals.

The surge of modern police always remained around the corner and with the passage of time, population increased and so did sophisticated crimes and criminals. Blue collar crimes, profit-driven crimes and organized crimes rose in the 20th century. The focus of policing was not only to prosecute the individual but also to prevent the crime. Efforts were made to provide Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) solutions to the police force and significantly increase their efficiency.

A range of technologies were used to gather, store, retrieve, process, analyze, and transmit information by the police. Relevant ICT may range from systems installed in public environments over PC-based systems in offices, to systems installed in cars and mobile systems used on-site. Modern policing includes the use of CCTV surveillance, radio frequency identification, e-identification, online verification for passport, etc. Modern police are dependent on ICT systems to be more efficient and effective.

Obviously, smart policing is important in cities of future, i.e., smart cities. Smart cities are extensively using ICT for all services and provide seamless transactions to citizens from one department to other. Greater ICT usage increases the risk to citizens’ information, governments’ data and business’ plans. In a smart city, policing is not limited to safeguarding infrastructure but also includes safeguarding data and information. Surely, there are greater security risks in smart cities than ever. Smart cities are going to be the reality for municipalities around the world in near future and the phenomenon seems to be un-stoppable. These cities will use communication networks, highly distributed wireless sensor technology, and intelligent management systems to solve current and future challenges and create new services.

The smart cities need a strict and sensitive law enforcement agency equipped with modern technology and alert with a lightening mobility. Modern police have to be reliable and responsive to all kinds of calls and interventions using high-tech gadgets with ability attained through state-of-the-art training. The tendency of developing urban economies which are deemed as the ultimate solution for growth in human development, providing jobs, generation of more revenues for the governments and advancement in technologies has produced many challenges for the maintenance of law and order for the police. Our cities are also faced with the dilemma of urbanization trends since long and witnessing integration at various levels. Resultantly these cities need a modernized, integrated and secured system in all aspects of civic facilities including policing. Only a professionally efficient, technologically enabled, socially sensitive police could instrumental in up-holding law and order and in maintaining a perfect scenario accorded with human rights in many of the diverse communities and neighborhoods presently brooded in civic environments. The police have to transformed accordingly to maintain its esteemed position to focus on maintaining safety and security of their citizens, businesses and to secure the critical infrastructure. Pakistan has been poised to create more smart cities in the near future and a smart policing system is obviously the ultimate panacea for the essential requirement to achieve the status of smart cities. The requirement is further fueled due to an increase in the field of organized criminal activities in urban spaces and a growing nexus between terrorist organizations in the world over.

Smart policing is a way of exploring new possibilities of shifting from a traditional police system to a smart policing structure. The obvious emphasis and highlight of new policing would be on the use of modern technology in solving important and complex security issues in urban business centers across the country. In booming urban centers there is a constant evolution of connectivity in cyber space between people, buildings, transport, energy, water, communications, commercial operations, media and the multitude of activities these urban places are generating. The scenario has brought us to a situation where we have been faced with new horizon of threat that need a smart monitoring system for business operations, safety and continuity of activity and daily life. The cyber-events—whether accidental from failures to integrate rapidly changing technologies or international from individuals, terrorists or nation states—are rapidly creating disruptions and uncertainty among the residents of these urban spaces.

The threats so created in smart cities impact citizens physically by affecting the infrastructure and the health of the citizens themselves. They have looming effects of certain activities which are bound to shape their daily lives including economic impact in case of frauds, or attacks on utilities such as power and water. These types of attacks can also affect citizens emotionally as many things can be lost to these attacks. It is pertinent to mention that such an attack can even be made to the culture and society as a whole and could affect millions in no time.

Smart policing is indeed an attempt to explore these kinds of risks associated with policing in smart cities. It’s a way of policing defined through a set of five principles–strict and sensitive, modern and mobile, alert and accountable, reliable and responsive, techno-savvy and trained.


Masud Khabeki is Adjunct Professor Criminology University of Arid Agriculture, Rawalpindi