The Superhero Stack: Powering Public Safety

David Ulevitch

Why can’t we connect with 911 operators on FaceTime or WhatsApp, to easily share photos and videos from the scene? Why do we wait for an emergency vehicle to arrive at an accident site to understand what’s happening when drones can get there faster and provide “eye in the sky” perspectives for first responders en route? According to the FBI, a car is stolen every 23 seconds in the United States, and 40% are never recovered — a shockingly high number given all of the data and technology available to us. 

Crime prevention, detection, and response, as we know it, needs to change. Heck, all emergency response services need to change, including 911 itself. We live in an era where artificial intelligence can conjure up answers, images, audio, and video in seconds, but we still can’t always find a thief fleeing a crime scene in a car with stolen plates or translate a non-English speaker calling 911 in real-time. It’s time for a national upgrade to our first-responder and public safety systems. 

Thankfully, new and emerging technology solutions — ranging from drones and license-plate scanning technology to data-gathering and intel-collection software — are beginning to make up a veritable tech stack aimed at tackling this issue. Such innovations have already led to significant decreases in crime rates for early-adopter cities, but to maximize their impact we need wider adoption.

What does technology-enabled public safety look like?

While still early, technologies like surveillance cameras, sensors, dispatch systems, and drones have already been instrumental in strengthening the capabilities of law enforcement and other agencies, facilitating a more proactive, more objective, and more data-driven approach to crime prevention and response. 

For example, Flock Safety utilizes specialized cameras and sensors to monitor vehicle activities, and has helped police officers catch everyone from bank robbers to kidnappers (sometimes hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime). On the other hand, Prepared enhances situational awareness for first responders — whether responding to calls from injured hikers to reports of car accidents, fires, or a home burglary — by letting 911 callers live-stream what’s happening around them. This kind of footage is much more useful in real time to save lives and make arrests than it is after the fact to generate news items or assign blame.

Furthermore, drones have been saving lives and aiding in investigations for years. As far back as 2018, even the Brookings Institution was highlighting real-world examples ranging from tracking criminals to recreating car accidents and locating senior citizens with dementia who had wandered off. Today, drones, such as those provided by Skydio, are currently used by some 1,200 U.S. police departments in some capacity. One of their superpowers is that they can be deployed to swiftly assess and relay real-time information from emergency scenes, enabling law enforcement to devise informed responses to a dynamic scene. For example, although the average response time to an emergency in New York City was 9 minutes and 30 seconds in 2022, a startup like Aerodome that facilitates ‘drones as a first responder’ can have eyes on the scene within 3 minutes. Beyond crime, drones are also tremendously helpful in relaying information from areas hit by natural disasters (such as wildfire or floods) when emergency response may be slow, or impossible to reach (something else the NYPD is experimenting with).

An integration of these technologies creates a cohesive system that enhances response capabilities. For instance, in a scenario involving a high-speed car chase, cameras could identify the suspect vehicle, while sophisticated software dispatches drones and coordinates law enforcement units, ensuring they are apprised of real-time developments. Concurrently, the drones could provide aerial surveillance, offering additional vantage points and information to ground units. Organizations could even use platforms like Kodex to streamline communications with law enforcement during a post-event criminal investigation. This synchronized operation, facilitated by technology, ensures coordinated, informed, and effective responses to dangerous situations.

Compounding benefits

There are also profound second-order effects that stem from the use of these technologies. By sharing information across a network of departments, for example, technology-enabled policing can create a more cohesive and effective law enforcement community capable of addressing crime across departments and jurisdictions. More broadly, the more information we have on any sort of emergency — from data on who was involved to video of how events unfolded — the more we can learn and the better we can prevent future incidents. 

Importantly, solving crimes and delivering justice to victims can also help improve the relationship between police and the neighborhoods that need them most. If police around the country could offer stronger coverage of high risk areas with the help of technology and make it virtually impossible to get away with committing certain crimes, trust in police — as well as life, in general — would significantly improve. 

Smart cameras, at least, are already paying off in this respect. In Wichita, Kansas, Flock cameras helped police successfully recover 56 stolen plates and $1.1 million in stolen property; make 121 arrests; and seize 16 firearms. In just half a year in Raleigh, North Carolina, the same technology assisted in 41 arrests. What’s more, according to a 2019 study, the presence of police cameras in Montevideo, Uruguay, helped reduce crime in those areas by 20% and, according to the authors, might have inspired more people to report crimes because they believed the perpetrators would be caught. 

We’re proud of our public safety portfolio, and we’re just getting started. If you’re building the future of public safety, or want to learn more about emerging tools and technologies, please let us know.

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