A Call for Smart Policing in Toronto

Smart Policing Toronto feature image

Deputy Chief Peter Sloly believes the Toronto Police Service could reduce it’s force by ‘several hundred’ officers if it leverages technologies associated with ‘Big Data’ (CBC 2016). Sloly claims big changes are needed to restore trust in policing he feels is at a low point not just in Toronto, but also, across North America (Powell 2016). Investigations into the killing of Laquann McDonald by a Chicago police officer and Sammy Yatim by a Toronto police officer have damaged public perception and generated traction for calls for reform. In both cases, human resources management and new information communication technologies have been presented as solutions to the challenges of contemporary policing.

Many technology firms are making claims that advancements in data analytics can shift police forces from a reactive model to a predictive one. Through Big Data, the City of Chicago has produced a list of individuals that algorithms have categorized as high risk for committing serious crime. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) then contacted the individuals with information about the consequences of the criminal acts they were deemed likely to commit in an effort to change their ‘future’. At the IBM Smarter Cities conference in Las Vegas last year it was announced that Watson analytics would mine data provided by Twitter in an attempt to predict crime hot spots. 

Chicago, like Toronto, has a body worn camera pilot underway. Manuel launched the body worn camera pilot not long after the death of Laquan McDonald, claiming that the new technology would help restore faith and trust in the police force. Interestingly, the ‘in car camera’, an earlier form of mobile surveillance, was introduced twenty years prior in the State of Illinois with the same objective: restore the loss of faith and trust in local law enforcement. In some ways, these mobile cctv solutions are closer to the reactive policing model cited by Sloly. Although footage of interactions between officers and citizens has proven useful in both the McDonald and Yatim cases, the video is a record of reactive policing in action. 

Days after video of a Chicago Police Officer shooting Laquan McDonald sixteen times was released, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired superintendent Garry F. McCarthy (Davey 2015). The footage was suppressed for a year after McDonald’s death, which, in conjunction with reports of officers deleting private CCTV footage at a nearby Burger King and threatening witnesses to make them file false accounts, fuelled outrage and protests in the city. In Toronto, just days after a verdict in the Sammy Yatim case was released, Mayor John Tory made a public appearance at the Toronto Police College. Tory observed training that focuses on dealing with people in crisis situations similar to Yatim’s case. Although the mayor was impressed he stated that more needed to be done to improve policing.

Like Tory, Sloly believes there is work to be done in the Toronto Police Force to foster new cultural norms. Sloly claims the practice of carding is reflective of a global crisis in policing. Research has repeatedly shown carding perpetuates systemic racial bias and is a result of inadequate training and supervision (Floyd v. State of New York; R. v. Fountain; Ontario Human Rights Commission 2003; Wortley and Owusu-Bempah 2011). In other words, officers were able to systematically target individuals for criminal investigation based on skin colour.

According to many creators of smart technologies, algorithms are not susceptible to bias (Kitchin 2014). Following this logic, a Big Data approach to policing could offer much to Toronto Police Services. However, scholars have contested the claims that algorithms ‘tell it like it is’ and encourage researchers to challenge claims of objectivity (van Dijck 2014). Transparency in the collection, sharing and analysis of data is an important safeguard against the potential failures of Big Data (Couldry and Powell 2014). These failures are already apparent in smart policing projects in the United States (Ferguson 2015). Thus, inadequate training and supervision of Big Data policing could reproduce the issues that have persisted with carding historically. Unfortunately, discussions about the potential for Big Data to erode democratic freedoms through the intensification of surveillance remain marginalized (Lyon 2014). Deputy Sloly, and those in the Toronto Police Service that favour his position, would do well to encourage researchers to join the table as the seemingly inevitable move to Big Data and smart policing occurs.

CBC. (27012016). Police “trying to dissolve the uniform,” Tory says of crisis training. Retrieved February 3, 2016, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/john-tory-police-college-1.3422033

Couldry, N., & Powell, A. (2014). Big Data from the bottom up. Big Data & Society, 1(2), 2053951714539277. http://doi.org/10.1177/2053951714539277

Davey, M. (2015, December 1). Chicago police superintendent fired in response to shocking video of black teen being shot 16 times. Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/news/chicago-police-superintendent-fired-in-response-to-shocking-video-of-black-teen-being-shot-16-times

Ferguson, A. G. (2015). Big Data and Predictive Reasonable Suspicion. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 163(2), 327–410.

Floyd v. State of New York. 82 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (West) 833 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).
Lyon, D. (2014). Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique. Big Data & Society, 1(2). http://doi.org/10.1177/2053951714541861

Kitchin, R. (2014). Big Data, new epistemologies and paradigm shifts. Big Data & Society, 1(1), 2053951714528481. http://doi.org/10.1177/2053951714528481

Ontario Human Rights Commission. 2003. “Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial

Powell, B. (2016, January 18). Passed over for the top job with Toronto police, Sloly says harnessing technology could allow the service to drop “several hundred police officers.” The Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/01/18/deputy-chief-peter-sloly-pushes-for-change-amid-low-point-and-looming-crisis.html

R. v. Fountain, 2013 ONCJ 434
van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, dataism and dataveillance: Big Data between scientific paradigm and ideology. Surveillance & Society, 12(2), 197–208.

Wortley, S. and Owusu-Bempah, A. 2011. “The usual suspects: police stop and search practices in
Canada.” Policing and Society 21(4):395-407.

Sixteen Shots: The Limits of Smart Tech in Urban Policing

Sixteen Shots The Limit of Smart Tech in Urban Policing



“I understand that the people will be upset and will want to protest when they see the video” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said before the release of footage showing the killing of 17 year old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago Police Officer (Guardian 2015). Emanuel has called for calm and framed the death as an opportunity to build bridges of understanding in a city plagued by racial profiling and police violence. The video was recorded a year ago by an in-car camera installed in a patrol car and clearly shows the youth being shot 16 times despite laying motionless on the road after the first bullet was fired. The Editorial Board of the Chicago Sun-Times says the video shows an officer “shoot down a young man as if he were a deer in the woods” (Chicago Sun-Times 2015).

The killing is astonishing on its own merits, here even more so in light of the fact that it took place in clear view of an in-car camera, ailment technology that has been in place for decades and is well known to the officers it records. The Chicago Editorial Board raises the incredulity of this killing taking place not in secret, not in a hidden location, but in clear and plain sight of other officers: “How is it than any Chicago police officer, right in front of at least eight other officers, would act in this way? Where is the weakness in the department’s training and supervision?” Despite several human and machine witnesses, Officer Van Dyke snuffed the life a youth with little inhibition stopping only when he ran out of bullets. Sixteen shots in total. In-car cameras did not save Laquan McDonald’s life, nor did they alter the behaviour of Officer Van Dyke. Yet the in-car camera was once a holy grail for police departments across the United States looking to ‘build trust’ with citizens in the wake of research showing racial profiling was prolific. That was over twenty years ago.

In the 1990s racial profiling had generated mistrust between police officers and citizens whose crimes were often nothing more than ‘being black while driving’ (Harris 2000). As research data proved the complaints of systemic racism had merit police chiefs and politicians were pressured to do something. Conveniently for businesses in the video recording industry, video recorders were getting smaller and more portable. Businesses saw an opportunity to develop a new market and ‘in-car camera’ pilot projects emerged in cities that could afford them. The first pilot in the State of Illinois started in 1991 (Koziol 1991). By the late 1990s, Gerald Arenberg, spokesman for the National Association of Chiefs of Police in Washington, D.C recognized that many police departments struggled to find the thousands of dollars needed per patrol car for in-car camera kits (Bucsko 1998). In 2002, the IACP was commissioned by the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to evaluate the impact of in-car camera usage on “officer conduct, management of the agencies and the public’s perception of police” (IACP 2003). The COPS agency had already made US$22 million in funding available for in-car camera kits across the nation. The report claimed ‘in-car cameras provided a substantial value to agencies using them’ on a range of measures including safety, accountability, training, performance and homeland security (IACP 2003:2). In-car cameras, the report suggested, were the holy grail of policing and much more.

One of the areas of concern identified in the IACP report was the management of data, specifically ‘storing, filing and retrieving video evidence’ (IACP 2003:2). Some departments would allow officers to self-manage data storage while other departments created positions for that task (Bucsko 1998). Relatedly, the issue of when video should be captured created tension for many departments. In the 90s, a police department in Florida requested the vendor override the design that allowed officers to turn the recording on and off so that the recording was perpetual (Mossman 1998). This was a rare request among several hundred clients according to the vendor, which created technical problems with the machinery and left officers feeling like they were being watched by big brother. Without control to turn the recording off and on at their discretion, the officers lost some of their autonomy. Including officers in the gaze of surveillance technology categorized them as a suspect population and reflects a shift in police supervision (Ericson and Haggerty 1997). A shift not welcomed in all departments. In Canada, then Chief of Police for Toronto Police Service Julian Fantino was outraged at Provincial policy that would mandate in-car cameras. Fantino called it a ‘hammer over the head of police officers’ whom he felt did not need to be monitored so closely because they could be trusted (Mackie 2003).

Historically, police reform has routinely been resisted by police sub-cultures that have “succeeded in undermining or diluting reforms that were implemented after a scandal” (Weitzer 2005:21). Research in the UK demonstrated early on that sub-cultural norms can and do support the circumventing of state efforts to record police behaviour using video cameras (Norris and Armstrong 1999). Researchers have argued that police operated video surveillance is more likely to be tampered with than systems run by other authorities (Goold 2003), calling into question who is protected ultimately by the adoption of new surveillance technology. The in-car camera footage of Laquan McDonald’s death was withheld from public viewing for a year under the thinly veiled pretence of further investigation (Friedersdorf 2015). This is typical of footage created by police forces, which according to Ben Brucato are “…most often used for their benefit and restricted from legal access by civilians or their attorneys” (2015:462). Moreover, Chicago Police officers allegedly accessed and deleted CCTV footage at a nearby Burger King moments after Laquan was killed (Guardian 2015).

Laquan McDonald was killed on a busy public road in front of several human and machine witnesses. The in-car camera footage paints a very grim picture of the potential for surveillance technology to create cultural change in policing. Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, a few months after Laquan’s death Mayor Emanuel announced a body worn camera pilot project for the City of Chicago, which he framed as a way to rebuild trust and to give citizens a sense of safety in the city (Spielman 2015). Purchasing more cameras may look promising on the surface, however, it side steps the real issue. Without a change in policing culture, more cameras will only produce more recordings of what the previous generation of cameras has captured.


Brucato, Ben. “Policing Made Visible: Mobile Technologies and the Importance of Point of View.” Surveillance & Society 13, no. 3/4 (October 26, 2015): 455–73.
Bucsko, Mike. “Cost Limist Police Cameras 30 Percent of 119 County Departments Can Tape Incidents.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 7, 1998.
Chicago Sun-Times Nov 24 2015 “Editorial: Justice Delayed Becomes Justice Denied.” Chicago. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://chicago.suntimes.com/editorials-opinion/7/71/1128794/wednesday-editorial.
Ericson, Richard V., and Kevin D. Haggerty. 1997. Policing the Risk Society. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Friedersdorf, Conor. “The Corrupt System That Killed Laquan McDonald.” The Atlantic, November 27, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/protesting-the-corrupt-system-that-killed-laquan-mcdonald/417723/?utm_source=SFTwitter.
Goold, Benjamin J. “Public Area Surveillance and Police Work: The Impact of CCTV on Police Behaviour and Autonomy.” Surveillance & Society 1, no. 2 (September 1, 2002): 191–203.
Guardian. 2015. “Chicago Mayor: ‘I Understand People Will Be Upset by Police Shooting Footage’ – Video.” The Guardian, November 25, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2015/nov/25/chicago-mayor-police-shooting-footage-laquan-mcdonald-video.
Harris, David A. “The Stories, the Statistics and the Law: Why ‘Driving While Black’ Matters.” SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, January 11, 2000. http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=199508.
Koziol, Ronald. “Police Wield Cameras To Shoot Down Crime.” Tribunedigital-Chicagotribune, October 24, 1991. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-10-24/news/9104050782_1_cameras-red-lights-officers.
Mackie, Richard. “Fantino Blasts Proposed Police Cameras.” The Globe and Mail. December 11, 2003, sec. Toronto News.
Mossman, Matt. “Royal Palm Police Protest Camera Policy.” The Palm Beach Post, November 16, 1998.
Norris, Clive, and Gary Armstrong. The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of CCTV. Oxford?; New York: Berg, 1999.
United States of America. “Impact of Video Evidence on Modern Policing.” International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2003. https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/abstract.aspx?ID=208525.
Spielman, Fran. “Emanuel Launches Body-Cam Pilot to Rebuild Trust between Citizens and Police.” Chicago, January 1, 2015. http://chicago.suntimes.com/news-chicago/7/71/306307/emanuel-unveil-second-term-crime-agenda.
Weitzer, Ronald. “Can the Police Be Reformed?” SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, 2005. http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2049900.

The White House on Smart Cities

At the White House Smart Cities Forum today, Assistant to the President of the United States for Science and Technology Dr. John Holdren announced federal investments exceeding US$160 million in smart cities research. The forum highlighted projects addressing a range of urban issues including transportation, critical infrastructure and health. Partnerships that bring together government, industry and academic circles were celebrated and framed as best practice for advancing smart city development.
France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), referenced AOL co-founder Steve Case as she described the current wave of the Internet as a time of integration with everyday life. Cordova highlighted three funding streams for the US$35 million directed by the NSF. Ten million has been marked for cyber-physical systems for smart and connected communities. The NSF will lead collaborative efforts with several agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Transportation. Cordova described the aim as furthering the computation, communication and control capacities of physical systems. The NSF will direct US$10 million towards the creation of ‘Living Labs’, described as “communities of practice that facilitate the participation of citizens and community organizations, as well as idea and application sharing, across cities and regions.” The Mozilla Foundation will play a prominent role in this project. The third project Cordova highlighted is the ‘Array of Things’ project based at the University of Chicago, which will benefit from US$3 million in funding. The AoT will publish open data gathered from sensors monitoring a range of vectors including air quality, noise, traffic levels and weather disturbances such as flooding.
The optimism of smart city technology continued with an academic panel that boasted: Farnam Jahanian, Carnegie Mellon University Provost; Steve Koonin, Director of NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress; and Anthony Townsend, Senior Research Scientist at NYU and fellow at the Data and Society Research Institute. At the very end of the question and answer period, facilitator Alaina Harkness asked the panel to comment on possible drawbacks or concerns about the push for smart city development. All three panelists agreed that privacy and security issues are areas of concern that require further research and policy development. Farnam Jahanian problematized the notion of informed consent as a guiding principle for privacy, pointing to the complexity of data streams. Steve Koonin raised the possibility for abuse of the data streams, and Anthony Townsend described the emerging networks behind smart cities as a potential security nightmare.
The integration of ‘computation and communication’ capabilities with critical urban infrastructure has raised concerns for decades. Truthfully, the smart city movement is just the latest in a series of technological advancements that the owners and managers of urban infrastructure have adopted. The shift to private ownership in the late 1990s accelerated the adoption of technology as a way of reducing operating costs. Cyber threats have largely remained just that: threats. However, industry experts are warning that the Internet of Things has created new vulnerabilities that are not understood by urban managers. Cesar Cerrudo claims that security in smart cities is, as it appeared to be in the White House Forum today, an afterthought. While researchers like Cerrudo have proven that smart cities are vulnerable to cyber attack, there continues to be a paucity of real world attacks. For the moment it seems the promise of ‘computation and communication’ is far too attractive to sully with talk about vulnerabilities.

Could partnership between IBM and Twitter create new crime prediction potential for smart cities?

Could IBM and Twitter improve crime prediction?












The winners of the 2015-16 IBM Smarter Cities Challenge were announced by Jen Crozier at the IBM Edge event in Las Vegas, Nevada last month. The Smarter Cities Challenge is the largest philanthropic program IBM currently runs, through which the firm claims to have donated services worth US$50 million to over 100 cities in the past five years. In addition to announcing the winners, Crozier also announced that each of the sixteen municipalities will receive expert advice on using Watson analytics as part of the prize package. A special bonus offering for three of the winners was also announced: Detroit, Memphis and Melbourne will be gifted with current and historical data sets from Twitter. These data sets will be analyzed with the help of Watson analytics and a Twitter analyst that will be on loan to one of the cities for three weeks. The ‘landmark partnership’ between IBM and Twitter was announced at the end of 2014 aims to ‘transform how businesses and institutions understand their customers, markets and trends’.

According to IBM marketing materials, Watson offers predictive analytics for a range of contexts including helping help retailers predict the behaviour of customers; predicting insurance claims in relation to sever weather; and predicting maintenance requirements for urban infrastructure. The spatiotemporal metadata associated with tweets has shown predictive value for a range of situations including elections, disease outbreaks, political revolutions and urban security threats (Gerber 2014).

Twitter data was famously used for urban security purposes during the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010, which involved surveillance of users and their social networks (Bennett, Haggerty, Lyon and Steeves 2014). Data posted on Twitter was used by security forces to prevent select protestors from even approaching security zones and used as evidence in the prosecution of suspicious and risky individuals (Werbin 2011). Twitter data was front and centre of the high profile case of Byron Sonne, who claimed to be ‘testing’ the security apparatus with his online Twitter activity; it took two years for him to be cleared of criminal charges linked to the incident (CBC 2012).

Beyond national security threats and mega event attacks, researchers are demonstrating the potential for Twitter data to predict criminal activity on a much smaller scale. Traditionally, predicting urban crime levels has involved analyzing historical crime data for a particular geography in combination with demographic information for that geography and extrapolating the results into the future. The Kernel Density Estimation model is the preferred approach for many researchers constructing crime hot spots (Andresen 2015). According to Hart and Zandbergen (2014) this may be attributed to the availability of this function in GIS applications, perceptions of accuracy and ease of use. Kernel Density Estimation (KDE) uses the historic crime data tied to a particular geography to predict the future probability of criminal activity in that space. Researchers have problematized this approach by arguing hot spots do not accurately portray the geography of criminality, which can be improved by using spatiotemporal data (Wang, Gerber and Brown 2012; Bogomolov et al. 2014; Malleson and Andresen 2015).

With the adoption of smart phones and social media applications, oceans of spatiotemporal data have become available to researchers. One of the earlier and more often cited articles on using data from Twitter for the purpose of predicting crime is the work of Wang, Gerber and Brown (2012). Their experiment involved semantic analysis of tweets collected from news agencies in combination with data from the local law enforcement agency in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although the researchers were only able to demonstrate predictive values for a limited range of crimes (‘hit and runs’ and ‘break and enters’), the research was promising (Wang, Gerber and Brown 2012). Since the tweets they used were posted by journalists, the analysis did not benefit from spatiotemporal meta data.

However, two years later, Matthew Gerber (2014) published his own research (funded by the United States Army) that combined historical crime data in the City of Chicago with semantic analysis of tweets and their spatiotemporal meta data. He was able to improve predictions for 19 out of 25 categories of crime (Gerber 2014). In the same year a team of researchers demonstrated mobile data could be used for crime prediction and could increase the granularity of hot spots using London as a case study (Bogomolov et al. 2014). They produced hot spot maps that looked less like the smooth contours of a weather forecast and more like a Rubik’s cube. According to Malleson and Andresen (2015), using spatiotemporal data leverages the characteristics of ambient populations to improve the predictive values for mobile crimes. They claim that by combining historical crime data with spatiotemporal data from Twitter predictions of criminal activity in the City of Leeds were improved (Malleson and Andresen 2015).

The use of data from social networking sites like Twitter to predict criminal hot spots is clearly not a magic bullet for local law enforcement agencies. As Malleson and Andresen (2015) note this data is not reflective of the entire ambient population in a given spatiotemporal cluster. However, traditional hot spot analysis relies on historical data that is not reflective of an actual spatiotemporal cluster either. There are other limitations, which include the challenge of decoding the meaning of each tweet (Gerber 2014). Despite these limitations, as local law enforcement agencies struggle to allocate limited resources the potential for creating more precise hot spots through data analytics will likely be of interest. The city chosen for the bonus consultation from Twitter may have the opportunity to explore the possibilities that the research examined above points to.


Andresen, Martin A. 2015. “Identifying Changes in Spatial Patterns from Police Interventions: The Importance of Multiple Methods of Analysis.” 16(2):148–60.

Bennett, Colin J., Kevin Haggerty, David Lyon, and Valerie Steeves. 2014. Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada. Edmonton, Canada: Athabasca University.

Bogomolov, Andrey et al. 2014. “Once Upon a Crime: Towards Crime Prediction from Demographics and Mobile Data.” arXiv:1409.2983 [physics]. Retrieved June 17, 2015 (http://arxiv.org/abs/1409.2983).

CBC. 2012. “G20 Protestor Byron Sonne Cleared of All Charges.” CBC News. Retrieved June 18, 2015 (http://live.cbc.ca/Event/G20_hearing).

Gerber, Matthew S. 2014. “Predicting Crime Using Twitter and Kernel Density Estimation.” Decision Support Systems 61:115–25.

Hart, Timothy and Paul Zandbergen. 2014. “Kernel Density Estimation and Hotspot Mapping.” Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 37(2):305–23.

Malleson, Nick and Martin A. Andresen. 2015. “Spatio-Temporal Crime Hotspots and the Ambient Population.” Crime Science 4(10):1–8.

Wang, Xiaofeng, Matthew S. Gerber, and Donald E. Brown. 2012. “Automatic Crime Prediction Using Events Extracted from Twitter Posts.” Pp. 231–38 in Social Computing, Behavioral – Cultural Modeling and Prediction, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, edited by S. J. Yang, A. M. Greenberg, and M. Endsley. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Retrieved June 17, 2015 (http://link.springer.com.proxy.queensu.ca/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-29047-3_28).

Werbin, Kenneth C. 2011. “Spookipedia: Intelligence, Social Media and Biopolitics.” Media, Culture & Society 33(8):1254–65.



Toronto Police Launches Body Worn Camera Pilot


posts feature image












*UPDATE: On May 27 the OHRC posted a press release indicating they were not consulted by Toronto Police, see click here to read the update

The Toronto Police Service has launched a yearlong pilot project to evaluate the utility of body-worn cameras at a cost of CAN$500,000.[1] The pilot involves 100 police officers testing three varieties of body-worn cameras in their daily work.[2] Technology firms Panasonic, Mediasolv and Integrys manufacture the body-worn cameras being trialed.[3] The project was developed in response to recommendations made in a variety of reports, including one submitted last summer by Justice Iacobucci who suggested the technology could enhance the transparency of policing for officers and citizens alike.[4] The Toronto Police Service claims, “Body-worn cameras are unbiased, reliable eyewitnesses to community interactions with the police. They will provide reassurance to community members and police officers”.[5] Area Field Superintendent Tom Russell sees a range of opportunities for using the body-worn camera including apprehension under the Mental Health Act, arrests, engaging with persons in crisis, crimes in progress, and public disorder.[6] The police service pushed out details relating to how the officers are being trained to use the new technology, and how data the devices collect will be handled, through press releases, blog posts, online videos and an FAQ sheet.

BWC samples








A photo of the devices being tested during the Toronto Police Service body-worn camera pilot project.[7]

According to a video published by the service, officers received 32 hours of training to prepare for deployment of the body-worn camera technology, which included theoretical and technical instruction.[8] The service states it consulted the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the Ontario Human Rights Commission during the design stage of the pilot.[9] In February the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a report on body worn camera use in policing, which states there are ‘serious implications for individuals’ right to privacy’.[10] Staff Sergeant Michael Barsky, who is the project lead, said, “It is very important we protect the privacy interests of the citizens of Toronto as well as consider the human rights issues that may arise”.[11] A review of the FAQ document published by the Toronto Police Service suggests some consideration has been given to issues of privacy in general, and to the capture, storage and review of body-camera data in particular.

Officers have been instructed to start recording when they begin an investigation and stop recording when the investigation completes or ceases to produce relevant information.[12] When entering a private home, officers are required to stop recording if asked to do so by the occupant.[13] While recording, data collected cannot be ‘accessed, reviewed, edited or deleted’.[14] All data is downloaded from the device at the end of the shift, encrypted and stored on a server owned and operated by the Toronto Police Service for a period of one year unless it is required for an investigation.[15] After that point, only the officer who collected the data and their supervisor will have access to the recording, and only select members of a technical team will be able to edit it. Citing R v Stinchcombe, the FAQ says all data will be included in disclosure for court proceedings.[16]

The Toronto Police Service is not an early adopted of body worn video (BWV) in Canada. In 2011, the Edmonton Police started the first federally funded BWV project in Canada, which ran for four years.[17] Dr. Emily Stratton, co-ordinator of the BWV project for Edmonton Police Service, claims that when individuals are under the influence of drugs or medication they are either indifferent to, or excited by, the use of BWV.[18] However, it is not only the public that BWV use is intended to modify. Barack Obama recently committed US$250 million to supply the nation with 50,000 body-worn cameras, an initiative sparked by a wave of citizen deaths involving police officers, most notably Freddie Gray of Ferguson.[19] Obama’s pledge came at the same time researchers at Cambridge University published their findings from a case study in Rialto, Calfornia, which showed a dramatic decrease in use of force by officers and a large reduction in grievances filed against officers.[20]

The work of Ariel, Farrar and Sutherland in the Rialto case is promising. However, the mixed result of BWCs in different cases[21] speaks directly to the inherently ambiguous nature of surveillance.[22] There is danger in framing BWCs, as one of the Toronto Police Service project members has, as some kind of ‘truth tech’ that will provide ‘unbiased’ and ‘reliable’ testimony. It is also dangerous to suggest that BWCs can act as some kind of technological cloak that will protect innocent citizens from abuses of power exercised by rogue police officers. Law enforcement agencies must address the underlying issues that have brought policing to a moment where a technological silver bullet is in desperate need. Without a commitment to reforming human resource issues that propagate excessive use of force by police officers, BWCs will achieve little.

[1] Toronto Police Service, Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions (Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 2015), http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/media/text/20150421-body_worn_camera_faq.pdf.

[2] Toronto Police Service, Toronto Police Service Launches Year-Long Body-Worn Camera Pilot Project (Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 15, 2015), http://torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases/31840.

[3] Toronto Police Service, Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions.

[4] Sara Faruqi, “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling,” TPS News, May 15, 2015, http://tpsnews.ca/stories/2015/05/body-worn-cameras-start-rolling/.

[5] Toronto Police Service, “Body-Worn Cameras,” Toronto Police Service, accessed May 20, 2015, http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/bodyworncameras/.

[6] Faruqi, “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling.”

[7] Toronto Police Service, “Body-Worn Cameras.”

[8] Body Worn Camera Pilot Project (Toronto, 2015), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKY3scPIMd8&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

[9] Toronto Police Service, “Body-Worn Cameras.”

[10] Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “Guidance for the Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement Authorities – February 2015,” February 18, 2015, https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/pub/gd_bwc_201502_e.asp#ftn7.

[11] Faruqi, “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling.”

[12] Toronto Police Service, Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Does Body Worn Video Help or Hinder de-Escalation?,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Gazette, 2014.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Office of the Press Secretary, “Strengthening Community Policing,” The White House, December 1, 2014, https://www.whitehouse.gov/embeds/footer.

[20] Barak Ariel, William A. Farrar, and Alex Sutherland, “The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, November 19, 2014, 1–27, doi:10.1007/s10940-014-9236-3.

[21] Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Does Body Worn Video Help or Hinder de-Escalation?”

[22] David Lyon, Surveillance Studies: An Overview (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).


Ariel, Barak, William A. Farrar, and Alex Sutherland. “The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, November 19, 2014, 1–27. doi:10.1007/s10940-014-9236-3.

Body Worn Camera Pilot Project. Toronto, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKY3scPIMd8&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Faruqi, Sara. “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling.” TPS News, May 15, 2015. http://tpsnews.ca/stories/2015/05/body-worn-cameras-start-rolling/.

Lyon, David. Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.

Office of the Press Secretary. “Strengthening Community Policing.” The White House, December 1, 2014. https://www.whitehouse.gov/embeds/footer.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. “Guidance for the Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement Authorities – February 2015,” February 18, 2015. https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/pub/gd_bwc_201502_e.asp#ftn7.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Does Body Worn Video Help or Hinder de-Escalation?” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Gazette, 2014.

Toronto Police Service. “Body-Worn Cameras.” Toronto Police Service. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/bodyworncameras/.

———. Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions. Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 2015. http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/media/text/20150421-body_worn_camera_faq.pdf.

———. Toronto Police Service Launches Year-Long Body-Worn Camera Pilot Project. Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 15, 2015. http://torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases/31840.



President Obama Launches Smart Policing Initiative

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President Obama announced the Police Data Initiative today during a speech he delivered in Camden, New Jersey. Restructuring of human resource in the local police department has resulted in significant reductions of violent crime and the distribution of drugs. The President indicated that continued progress could be made through improvements to the force’s information technology management. He announced that the White House brought an ‘elite tech team’ that would work with the Camden police force to enhance their data management, including the integration of 41 separate systems it currently uses. President Obama claimed that data reform would ensure areas of the city that require additional law enforcement resources could be identified quicker and served better. Moreover, it was suggested that better data management will aid police forces in developing trust with local communities. Camden is one of twenty-one cities participating in the initiative:


White House Police Data Initiative Cities 2015 051715_policing_map










According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy: “The lessons learned in Camden can help law enforcement around the country both by example and also directly since some of the development work can be shared through open source best practice.” The participating police forces will have two primary divisions of labour:

  • “Using open data to increase transparency, build community trust, and support innovation
  • “Better using technology, such as early warning systems, to identify problems, increase internal accountability, and decrease inappropriate use of force

Code for America is helping the police departments release 101 data sets that have not been accessible to the public until now. There are several open data practices included in the press release, including the creation of maps and hackathons. According to the release, Code for America is working with the International Association of Police Chiefs and the Police Foundation to “grow a community of practice for law enforcement agencies and technologists around open data and transparency in police community interactions.”

The initiative will also develop predictive analytics to identify ‘at risk’ officers in an effort to intervene before they break code of conduct. This is clearly a response to the recent media attention to excessive use of force, which President Obama gestured to in his mention of the situation in the City of Ferguson, among others. The University of Chicago is sending five data science scholars to several of the participating cities to enable them to develop analytics that will predict potentially problematic officers. The Department of Justice and other partners will apparently work with universities and other research firms to conduct research on body cameras and analytics of the video they will produce.

President Obama asserted that technology is only part of the solution in his address. He pointed to the need for society as a whole to address issues of race and racialization. President Obama also suggested the trend of increased sentencing for non-violent drug offence was usurping valuable financial resources that should be redirected from incarceration and invested in social programs. He also called attention to the social costs to communities that struggle as a result of broken homes. In his address the President was clearly acknowledging concerns about the use of force by local law enforcement agencies across the country. A point that is underscored by new policies designed to de-militarize local police forces.


Bristol to be World’s First Open Programmable City

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A partnership between the Bristol City Council, order the University of Bristol, and NEC is aiming to make Bristol the world’s first open programmable city. In a press release from NEC, Paul Wilson, Managing Director of Bristol is Open, is quoted saying the partnership will “…create a collaborative ecosystem of global tech firms, start-ups and local community organisations to use Bristol’s network as a city-scale lab.”[1] In the same release, Dejan Bojic from NEC describes the initiative as ‘a truly ground breaking smart city project’. Bristol has been pursuing smart city objectives through initiatives that support locally based research, innovation and entrepreneurship for several years. [2]

A press release from the Bristol City Council states that government funding has supported the construction of a ‘sophisticated, city scale digital research infrastructure’ that will allow partners to ‘experiment, learn and develop innovative solutions’ to urban issues.[3] Creating solutions for environmental sustainability is a significant theme in smart city discourse and viewed as a growth industry by investors and government agencies. A report produced in the UK by the Department for Business and Innovation suggests cities in the UK are well positioned to develop smart solutions that enhance sustainability for cities all over the world.[4] George Ferguson, Mayor of the City of Bristol, sees the city as a showcase that allows cities around the world to see the potential for technology to solve challenges such as ‘increased population, scarcer resources and a changing climate’.[5]

The City of Bristol is the EU Green Capital 2015, an award that recognizes “…local level efforts to improve the environment, the economy and the quality of life in cities”.[6] Bristol was an early adopter of the Green Digital Charter, established in 2009, which signifies a commitment to sustainable urban development.[7] Bristol also signed the ‘Covenant of Mayors’, which is a pledge to exceed the European Union’s objective of reducing C02 levels by 20% by the year 2020. More recently, Bristol became the first city in the world to launch the ‘One Tree Per Child’ initiative, which will arrange for all school children in the city to plant a tree.[8] Behind Bristol’s commitment to environmental reform is an enthusiasm for using technology to further sustainability objectives.

In The Programmable City, Rob Kitchin (2011) calls for inquiry into the potential impact that coded cities will have on the nature of urban life.[9] The ‘open programmable city’ vision of Bristol and NEC features innovation, entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships. It also points to replication. In the Bristol City Council press release, a partnership with the Chinese City of Guangzhou is mentioned. A representative from Guangzhou suggests the city plans to use Bristol as a model for its own smart city development. This points to the efforts of global tech firms to align their brands with successful smart cities. When a city is viewed as ‘smarter’ than others, there is an opportunity to sell the technology that makes it ‘smarter’ to other cities.

The traction afforded to sustainability initiatives through the smart city movement presents an opportunity for contemporary urban managers to protect and preserve natural resources through advanced digital infrastructure. What might this mean for the future of urban infrastructure management? In particular, how might smart solutions initially aimed at improving sustainability on a local scale set the stage for managing energy and water resources at larger scales? By installing systems in numerous cities, corporations such as NEC, IBM and Siemens will have access to vast quantities of data about energy and water usage. Global tech firms could potentially emerge as ‘experts’ on urban resource management and consumption by virtue of the data they collect. This could create a space for global technology firms to consult municipalities on energy and water policy. Indeed, this is already occurring. By creating expansive networks of smart city systems, tech firms could potentially monitor or even manage energy and water usage for a multiplicity of cities. Through replication, a global network of systems of local control could emerge. This would have significant implications for urban governance and should be given considerable thought. How will local autonomy be impacted by the rise of these networks?

[1] NEC, NEC Partners with Bristol to Create the World’s First Open Programmable City.

[2] Kitchin, “The Real-Time City? Big Data and Smart Urbanism.”

[3] Bristol City Council, Bristol Is Open Announces Its First Partnerships.

[4] UK, The Smart City Market: Opportunities for the UK.

[5] Bristol City Council, Bristol Is Open Announces Its First Partnerships.

[6] European Commission, “European Green Capital.”

[7] Networking Intelligent Cities for Energy Efficiency, “GDC in a Nutshell | Green Digital Charter.”

[8] Morris, “Olivia Newton-John Launches Bristol Tree-Planting Project.”

[9] Kitchin, “The Programmable City.”



Bristol City Council. Bristol Is Open Announces Its First Partnerships. Bristol, March 11, 2015. http://www.bristol.gov.uk/press/bristol-open-announces-its-first-partnerships?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Bristol+City+Council+News.

European Commission. “European Green Capital.” Accessed February 24, 2015. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/europeangreencapital/about-the-award/policy-guidance/index.html.

Kitchin, Rob. “The Programmable City.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 38, no. 6 (2011): 945–51. doi:10.1068/b3806com.

———. “The Real-Time City? Big Data and Smart Urbanism.” GeoJournal 79, no. 1 (November 2013): 1–14. doi:10.1007/s10708-013-9516-8.

Morris, Steven. “Olivia Newton-John Launches Bristol Tree-Planting Project.” The Guardian. Accessed February 24, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/23/olivia-newton-john-launches-bristol-tree-planting-project.

NEC. NEC Partners with Bristol to Create the World’s First Open Programmable City. Bristol, March 10, 2015. http://uk.nec.com/en_GB/press/201503/20150310_03.html.

Networking Intelligent Cities for Energy Efficiency. “GDC in a Nutshell | Green Digital Charter.” Accessed February 24, 2015. http://www.greendigitalcharter.eu/greendigitalcharter/infographicstest.

UK. The Smart City Market: Opportunities for the UK. UK: Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2013.



Hacking the Smart City via Open Data

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Several events in support of the open data movement are being organized in the month of February. On February 21st an ‘International Open Data Hackathon’ with 100 events around the world will take place under the coordinating efforts of the Open Data Day collective. That same weekend the Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) is being scheduled. This event is officially sponsored by the Government of Canada and has over 100 teams in cities across the country registered to compete. The Data Fest group is also organizing a global hacking event focused on smart cities complete with its own hashtag: #smartcityhack. The lead organizer for the event Teresa Bouza has a solid team of graduate students from leading universities working on the project. The first #smartcityhack is scheduled for the same weekend as Open Data Day and CODE. The linking of the open data movement with smart cities could present an opportunity for civic groups to hold urban leaders accountable to frequently made claims of the democratic potential of e-governance.

Smart Cities, Open Data and the Promise of Transparency

Urban leaders around the world have pledged their support for smart city initiatives. Much of the smart city discourse is produced through claims being made by corporate executives and city officials. Some tech firms and municipal managers believe that investments in advanced information communication technology will improve citizen participation and result in a more democratic city. This top-down perspective suggests increased civic involvement requires urban leaders to open the lines of communication to enable citizens to participate.

While the open data movement has visible support from all levels of government, open data policies and practices are a work in progress. Even early adopters like the City of Philadelphia, which released a comprehensive review of their progress late last year, are still finding their footing. The new strategic plan for the city acknowledges the need for additional policies and systems that guide decision makers on the suitability of a given data set for ‘open’ status. The political nature of open data was made clear when the city’s Chief Technology Officer resigned, claiming there was a culture of resistance in the administration, which would prevent payroll and procurement data from being released. [1]

The open data movement is also gaining traction through the efforts of grassroots organizing. In many of the cities listed by the Government of Canada and the United States Government as having open data programs, there are locally organized collectives pushing for improved access to information. Civic-minded individuals and groups often organize intensive ‘hackathons’ where ideas for using open data sets are converted into programs and applications. These events are at times coordinated at national and even global scales. One such event, taking place in late February, aims to bring the smart city and open data movements together in a ‘Smart Cities Hackathon’. In Canada and the U.S., Boston, Oklahoma City, and Vancouver will participate. If the Philadelphia lesson is any indication of what is ahead for the open data movement, more events like these will be required for the transparency promise to be realized.



Zaleski, Andrew. “Welcome to the Open Data Movement’s Turbulent Teenage Years,” January 12, 2015. http://nextcity.org/features/view/open-data-cities-mark-headd-philadelphia-michael-nutter.


[1] Zaleski, “Welcome to the Open Data Movement’s Turbulent Teenage Years.”

Intelligent Community Forum Announces 2015 Finalists

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The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has announced the short list for the 2015 competition. Last year, order three Canadian cities (Kingston, medicine Toronto and Winnipeg) made it to the final seven with Toronto ultimately being announced as Intelligent Community of the Year. Toronto was applauded for the waterfront redevelopment project (the largest in North America), pharmacy the MaRS Discovery District (a research hub) and its investment in transportation. Other finalists were Arlington County, Virginia and Columbus, Ohio in the United States, and Hsinchu City and New Taipei City in Taiwan. The finalists this year again include Arlington County, Columbus and New Taipei; while adding Mitchell South Dakota (United States), Ipswich (Australia), Rio, and Surrey, British Columbia. The theme for the competition this year is The Revolutionary Community: How Intelligent Communities are Re-Inventing Urban and Rural Planning. The theme is framed as a response to the increase in and intensification of disruptions to ‘technology, the economy and the environment’. Toronto will host the annual summit in June at which point the new winner will be announced.