Seattle appoints Amazon VP to the police department

The city of Seattle’s Police Department has appointed 4 new senior managers including the surprise choice of Greg Russel, a VP of online retail giant, Amazon.

What does this have to do with smart cities? There are two main implications. The first is simply to do with the signalling of the clear importance of big(ger) data in policing. Russell’s job as Chief Information Officer will deal with everything from digital records to  “the rapidly expanding use of patrol-car video and body cameras”, which as the article notes has caused problems for police departments in developing “a way to balance the public’s right to know with the privacy rights of individuals.” Policing is increasingly dominated by surveillance-generated data, and analytics that are used to direct limited police resources to where crime is more likely to occur, but there is also the concern generated by the potential for lawsuits around privacy and the growing ‘right to be forgotten’ as well as the use of police-generated video as evidence against the police themselves.

However, the second, and in the long-term perhaps the most significant, implication is that this appointment is just one of the many signs of the increasing importance of relationships between urban governance and tech companies, and the rise of the ‘Chief Information Officer’, which is at the heart of the smart city agenda. It is not, in this case, that this is any kind of ‘privatization’ or ‘outsourcing’ of police operations, rather that a new kind of career trajectory seems to be opening up that sends tech company executives into urban management. The intangible benefits of such links and the contacts and connections thus created are unlikely to be entirely insignificant, especially given Amazon’s growing move away from its beginnings as an e-retailer and towards being a cloud computing services provider.



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