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How Innovative Solutions are Transforming Growing but Fiscally Challenged U.S. Cities

July 15, 2015

Triangulating Gunshots - ShotSpotter

City governments are tasked with ensuring that the highest quality services are provided to citizens each day to improve livability within restricted budgets. Whether it’s to address issues related to traffic congestion, provide public safety or simplify a utility bill paying process, cities are in charge of governmental functions that affect citizens in a magnitude of ways from getting to work, to staying safe, to keeping the lights on in their homes.

While being chartered with delivering a variety of services to constituents, cities are facing challenges from two different sides. On one hand, many cities are still reeling from the fiscal pressure following the Great Recession. At the same time, cities are experiencing an urban revival, with the largest cities attracting the greatest influx of new residents.

This situation of tight budgets and growing city populations creates a sort of “perfect storm” for city government innovation. The “smart cities” movement has focused on encouraging the use of innovation and intelligent design to help growing cities provide more efficient services to meet current and future needs. In this movement, technology and innovation intersect with the most impactful areas of city governance. To illustrate this trend, we wanted to provide a quick overview of the solutions being adopted within city governments across the country and highlight how local governments are innovating in the quest to become a “Smart City.”

Engaging the Mobile Citizen

The City of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania is following the trend of engaging the mobile citizen by creating an application that modernizes the way citizens contact the city in non-emergency situations. Innovating the traditional 311 non-emergency call system, the city developed Philly311, a mobile app that serves as a gateway to contact the city with a wide range of inquiries such as how to start a business, waste collection day schedules, and to report common issues like traffic signal outages, pothole and roadway defects and graffiti removal. While the traditional call center is still available to use, the app offers another way to connect with the city in non-emergency situations, reducing the call load on emergency services and giving cities as direct way to communicate with city officials.

Triangulating Gunshots

According to a recent article in Route Fifty, around 90 city police departments throughout the U.S. who use a system that detects and locates gunfire using audio sensors were able to more quickly investigate and verify reports of gunfire during the recent Independence Day holiday weekend. The technology provided by ShotSpotter uses these sensors mounted on streets or in other area to pick up a sound that resembles a gunshot. This sound registers with the company’s cloud software and ‘boom’ or ‘bang’ noises are quickly classified by an automated intelligent computer system that has learned the difference between these sounds, according to ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark. While these systems certainly aid in triaging reports during festivals and celebrations, they operate year round to allow offices to more quickly learn about gunfire and quickly triangulate the location of that gunfire. One city where ShotSpotter has been successful is the City of Camden in New Jersey, where a recent analysis found that gun incidents decreased by 48.5% in the first half of 2014 versus the first half of 2013.

Innovating Police Officer Gear

In recent months, Onvia has researched the growing body worn camera market extensively, including the issues that arise in regards to storing and hosting the video footage, as well as making the recordings available to the public. While city governments are still figuring out how to address privacy and accessibility concerns, many are well underway implementing the technology and establishing a chain of custody to store, host and manage the body camera footage. One example is the City of Tulsa in Oklahoma, which released a bid in March 2015 that included specifications for a system to download, archive and retrieve recorded videos.

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ONVIA