Introducing City.Risks

City.Risks is a 3-year project funded by the H2020 programme.

The project started in May 2015 and its main objective is to increase the perception of security of citizens in urban areas by activating in a more transparent and sustainable way their participation in communities, through which information and interventions can be provided both to proactively protect citizens from falling victims to criminal activities as well as to reactively provide more timely and effective response and assistance. In order to do so, the City.Risks project will leverage a set of innovative technologies, city infrastructures, and available data sources but, more importantly, will aim at making citizens’ smartphones the modern tool for increasing their personal and collective sense of security.

Recently, City.Risks has been analyzing factors influencing the fear of crime from the citizens’ perspective. The task aimed to gain greater insight into and a better understanding of the multiple macro- and micro-level factors that influence citizens’ perceptions and experiences of crime and the criminal justice system in their local area. Further, the task set out to investigate the readiness of citizens to adopt new technologies which are designed to address fears, perceptions and experiences of crime in the city. Existing information on levels and experiences of crime were collected and reviewed and surveys of citizens who live and/or work in three European cities (The London Borough of Waltham Forest, UK; Sofia, Bulgaria; and Rome, Italy) were undertaken. A total of 22,632 questionnaires were successfully completed across the three pilot sites. In conclusion, the survey findings show that there is an appetite among citizens in the three European cities to engage with technologies aimed at mitigating risks. Our findings provide support for the development of an app that allows users to report a crime they have witnessed or have been victim to, with speed, ease and one that yields a satisfactory response from the police. In developing a technological solution, the police and other criminal justice agencies need to be both central to its development but also, its operation. Most of those surveyed have lived and/or worked in the area for 10 years or over and utilising their local knowledge and experiences would be valuable to the technological project. Greater, targeted consultation and delivered using a variety of methods is pivotal to the development of a technological app. Across the three sites, the fear of becoming a victim of crime was quite high. An app that provides accurate and ‘live’ information about crime and other incidents in local areas has the potential to reduce the fear of crime among citizens.

City.Risks is also designing and implementing a mobile app to empower citizens to interact with authorities for criminality prevention, detection and evidence gathering and risk reporting (citizen as reporter). Community-based functions are one of the major cornerstones of the City.Risks mobile app. Currently, new functionality is integrated that enables users to ask whether somebody witnessed a crime. Community members that could have witnessed the incident, are notified and can directly contact the requesting user. The City.Risks app interacts with the RMRS (incident reporting) system featuring incident management, automatic alerting and decision management for operation center. Once the user has sent a report through the app (text and media), the system will translate the report to associate it with a given risk category, will decide whether it is worth publishing, will update it on the basis of new incoming reports and eventually will make it accessible to the City.Risks user community.

The City.Risks approach foresees a command and control centre that will allow the authorities to operate and manage the whole system, by monitoring ongoing activities and events, run (emulate) scenarios, fire specific actions (for example, massively notify users within a geographic bounding box), determine evacuation strategies on the basis of local and historical information, select and trigger response actions, determine the “Gateways” to be informed for a stolen item, allow for receiving and acting upon streaming (video) input from citizens acting as reporters. Main functionalities of the Operation Centre will be tracking and retrieval of multiple stolen items simultaneously, monitoring and responding to several incident reports, dispatching real-time alerts to citizens, data aggregation, visualization and filtering to support decision making, conducting simulations for training and preparedness.

City.Risks also provides a crime data repository for historical crime incident records provided in an anonymized form by police authorities. These are processed, together with area demographics and geographic information to analyze and model the geospatial distribution of crime in large urban environments. The aim of the analysis is to identify crime hotspots for various types of crime and to reveal insights about potential environmental factors of crime. Demographic data, including population distribution and characteristics, income levels, educational background, type of occupation, etc., are collected from official sources. Geographic information, including various types of Points of Interest, roads and public transportation networks, land use, etc., are collected from publicly available data sources and Web APIs. Using these data, the system learns models regarding the geospatial distribution of crime, and generates crime hotspot maps and other statistics which are accessible through the City.Risks Web Portal.

City Risks is now completing the design of the theft detection sensor to be employed in a participatory sensing approach. The sensor is a coin-sized low energy module (only 18.5mm x 21.0mm), equipped with a radio based transceiver (Bluethooth-BLE) and a battery to power the circuit for a “long period”. The user is provided with a sensor (unique ID) and registers it into the portal through the app or the web interface. The sensor is attached to a personal item (e.g. bike or bag) and by default is set in “beacon” mode, so that it can be scanned by other devices. Optionally, the user can set the sensor into the “stealth” mode to avoid scanning, but this is more power consuming. In case of theft, the user reports item as stolen through the app and the Operation Centre sends the information to the City Risk detecting network, including gateways (fixed position, large and static coverage) and users’ smartphones (mobile position, smaller coverage). In case of stealth mode, the City.Risks gateways and activist smartphones broadcast an encrypted activation signal, the radio sensor is activated and the BLE beacon mode is enabled. In the beacon mode, the BLE sensor can broadcast its signal to nearby devices (City Risks users’ smartphones and gateways), providing ID and “stolen” status. The nearby citizens’ mobile apps will capture the BLE alarm signal and the app will report the sensor ID, status, GPS location, timestamp and other details to the Operation centre, who will visualize the item position on a map and will activate the recovery procedure.

Finally, the City.Risks web portal will represent a complementary tool with respect to the mobile app and will provide several services: communication about ongoing events, view crime statistics and relevant data about City.Risks cities, registration/authorization/editing of user info, registration/editing/de-registration of the theft detection tokens, planning of safe routes.