The Jakarta bomb blasts last Thursday was a reminder that no one should ever take a city’s safety for granted. Public safety is an important function for governments, and with Asia Pacific expecting to see the highest number of smart cities by 2025, can smarter cities also mean safer cities? What role does the advancement of technology and IoT have to play in delivering public safety?

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) conducted a survey of delegates at the Safe Cities Asia conference in May 2015 and found nearly 90% of respondents had already been involved in a safety project. More importantly, 69% of respondents are planning to invest in public safety projects in their countries over the next two years, with 44% to invest more than US$100 million.

However even with such budgets, governments may be unaware of how to utilise the funds wisely and a common challenge is the lack of alignment between government agencies and a failure to adopt an integrated approach. With the issue of privacy increasingly under the spotlight, this makes it even harder to for governments to implement an integrated approach without bringing to mind the “pre-crime” scenario featured in the 2002 science fiction film Minority Report.

In smart cities implementation, big data analytics and network technology are two important factors. In Singapore, AGT and Cisco’s City Safety Solution fuses data from multiple sources to identify events and reduce false alarms in order to effectively monitor public areas, detect incidents and accelerate response times.

Predictive policing is the use of data analytics to determine potential locations of future crime. By combining and analyzing data from a variety of sources, such as video cameras on trains, in department stores and scattered throughout the city, as well as other data on social platforms such as Twitter, crime and perhaps acts of terrorism can be prevented before it happens.

Experiments conducted in response to a ‘predictive policing algorithm’ based on crime data in Santa Cruz, California, enabled police officers to identify the most likely time and place within a certain locality for a particular crime to be committed. This allowed for targeted patrols to be made and resulted in a 4 percent decline in burglaries and 13 additional arrests being recorded within the first 6 months.

Will results like this justify the privacy issues that these technologies raise? With the increasing threat of terrorist activities in the world, what are the guidelines for the exchange of information between government and citizen to ensure a safer city?