Paris, France, February 2021 – Over the past few months, Efus’ working group on Security & Innovation organised three web conferences on technological and social innovation in the realm of urban security. The aim was twofold: to deepen our general knowledge on innovation in urban security and to discuss new aspects of innovative crime prevention strategies. In a session on crime reporting applications we looked at a specific example of a previously covered topic: civic technology. This first session was followed by a joint conference with the Efus working group on Nightlife that brought to light the ways in which cities can identify and mitigate feelings of insecurity at night. In the final session, we went back to a more purely technological topic by covering the use of drones in cities, its risks and its opportunities.
A few takeaways from the series
Feelings of insecurity matter
Perceptions of safety and feelings of insecurity were recurring topics in all three sessions. They are complex and not always linked to official crime rates. Emotional responses range from situational anxiety, over shock and anger, to fear of crime. In order to untangle these responses it is important to understand which factors affect different groups of people. Feelings of insecurity have an impact on individual and collective well-being, on political and economic behaviour and on the way we use public spaces.
In the session on feelings of insecurity at night, the speakers outlined how they identified and mitigated it in different contexts.
Elena Guidorzi from Experientia, an international user experience design consultancy and partner of the ToNite project, explained how they collected information through urban walks, interviews and an online survey. Some of the factors that impact feelings of insecurity were the attendance and physical characteristics of a place; the network of local associations, and the familiarity of respondents with the place.
Randy Bloeme, from the Amsterdam-based policy research and social innovation institute DSP-Groep, pointed out that they also do neighbourhood walks to assess residents’ perceptions of nightlife experiences. He added that another way to get a sense of residents’ perception of safety is to ask them what solutions they would put into place.
In the framework of the SHINE project, the University of Vilnius are researching feelings of insecurity in nightlife entertainment hotspots and how to prevent sexual harassment. They pointed out that media coverage can also be an interesting source of information on feelings of insecurity.
Technology as a way to mitigate threats – real and perceived
The speakers of the session on crime signalling applications presented the mobile applications they developed to empower citizens and support them when they fall victim to crime. RightsApp aims to empower European citizens who are victims of crime in any EU country by offering them information on their rights without leading them through a maze of legal jargon.
The AppElles application is developed by the French NGO Résonantes, which is specialised in combatting violence against women and girls. AppElles allows its users to get help through a secured alert technology and to access real-time support through a directory of professional assistance. Users might feel a sense of security knowing that such a service is at arm’s length. However, while the information gathered through such applications could inform policy responses better tailored to victims’ needs, there are multiple risks. The insights they provide into feelings of insecurity must be considered as an aggregation of subjective perceptions, and as such vulnerable to bias.
The use of drones in urban areas
The working group’s third session covered the use of drones in urban areas. Professor at the Design Against Crime Research Centre of the University of the Arts in London, Paul Ekblom explained how drones can be exploited to control crime through surveillance, detection and pursuit. He also pointed out that drones can be a target of crime (stolen or stolen from, taken down by criminals, etc.) and even a tool for criminals. Garik Markarian and Andrew Staniforth, partners of the EU DroneWise project, expanded on this latter aspect by elaborating on how to address the terrorist threat from hostile drones.
Multi-stakeholder collaboration and the role of local authorities
When it comes to local expertise and connections to local associations and community leaders, municipal authorities are invaluable partners. This was pointed out by Elena Guidorzi of Experientia, who highlighted how the City of Turin was able to function as an intermediary with residents and local associations. Beyond an interest in better understanding feelings of insecurity, the City of Turin also invests in exploring the use of drones. The Technological Investigations Department (R.I.T) of the local police has a drone unit, which experiments different security and safety missions in urban contexts. In addition to the City of Turin, multiple actors are involved: universities, other European cities, countries and law enforcement agencies, and private companies. The unit has an indoor and an outdoor testing area where they look at different use cases for the drones: security at mass gatherings, environmental protection, digitalization of the city and indoor sanitization of areas at risk of being contaminated with the Covid-19 virus.
A third series of web conferences
The objective of the working group is the provision of information on new methodologies, tools and experiences that are tailored to the changing security needs of local and regional authorities. We are looking forward to presenting the outputs of the Cutting Crime Impact (CCI) project in which partners have developed interesting tools that help improve the use of the following approaches: predictive policing, community policing, crime prevention through urban design and planning (CP-UDP), and measuring and mitigating feelings of insecurity.
The first web conference of the next series will be held on 31 March and will cover the topic of urban planning, design and management of public spaces. The security by design concept is a recurring topic in the debate on the protection of public spaces. With a view to discussing how it is used in different contexts – both as a way to tackle petty crime and protect public spaces from terrorist threats – we invite you to our first joint session with the PACTESUR project, led by the City of Nice (France) and in which Efus is a partner. You can sign up here.
We look forward to welcoming you again to our web conferences and on Efus Network to continue discussing current and new topics.