At Secured Cities conference, Philadelphia shares commitment to urban security

Oct. 30, 2012
Mayor Nutter and team explain how Philadelphia leverages video surveillance, real-time crime information, fusion center approach and community policing to improve public safety

Philadelphia, Penn., Oct. 10, 2012 -- At the Fall 2012 Secured Cities conference ( in Philadelphia, held today and tomorrow, Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael A. Nutter reminded conference attendees that public safety remains core to a vibrant city. The message fell in line with a conference that offered seminar sessions on transit security, school and university campus protection, municipal video surveillance and counterterrorism.

"You cannot have a great city if people don’t feel safe," Mayor Nutter told a packed keynote luncheon ballroom at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Nutter said that Philadelphia is seeing population growth for the first time in 60 years as in-town neighborhoods are revitalized and as former suburb dwellers return to the city.

The reason for much of that change, said Nutter, was an increase in public safety that has seen violent crimes decrease.

But Mayor Nutter is clear that the work is far from done. Philadelphia, he said, still has one of the highest poverty rates, and also one of the highest crime rates, of the top 10 U.S. cities. Those rates, which Nutter largely inherited and has had to preside over (now on his second term, and leading Philadelphia since the recession of 2008), are targets of initiatives from his office that include community-focused policing, targeting improvements in vulnerable neighborhoods, investing in green jobs, and focusing on school reforms. He’s also fighting a 2012 homicide rate that falls out of line with recent trends of declining homicides in the city.

On the public safety side, his leadership, together with that of his Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey (who delivered opening remarks at the conference), has made strides to leverage technology to boost public safety. Tools used have included social media, video surveillance and data sharing across multiple law enforcement agencies.

Notably, the city used a variety of media to disperse a list of Philadelphia’s Top 100 most wanted persons. The list was dispersed in March, and Nutter said that by July, some 87 persons on that list were in custody. Nutter and Commissioner Ramsey also noted usage of their YouTube channel to feed videos and photos to the public to aid in identification of suspects.

The city is offering incentives for businesses to join its "SafeCam" program which connects law enforcement with private video surveillance assets (the public facing cameras operated by businesses). On the video surveillance side, the city is making use of not only its installed camera system, but is partnering with other regional agencies (and across state lines) through the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center and the Real Time Crime Center operations.

That concept of sharing was something stressed by Mayor Nutter, who advocated public-private partnerships like the SafeCam program as well as cross-jurisdictional partnerships. That ability to partner to create smarter policing was something Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Commissioner Nola Joyce stressed in an afternoon session.

"State and local budgets are pushed to the max and federal dollars are drying up, and I don’t see that changing," Joyce said. With no hidden pile of money to be found, she said agencies have to work smarter than ever. In her role, she says she has to ask "how can the police take information from human intelligence and sensor (like the video sensors) to better understand crime problems and to create more focus action – both tactical and strategic actions?" The challenge to urban security and law enforcement today, she said, was to move from being a historically reactionary force to becoming both proactive and preventive in nature.

It’s a message that Mayor Nutter and Commissioner Ramsey both shared in their remarks to the crowd at Secured Cities, if cities can prevent crimes from occurring, they will likely see a positive response in the local economy. It’s why Nutter, while fighting a tight city budget during economic times, has been moving the city toward innovative public safety uses of technology and community policing strategies that are specific to the local neighborhood. As he stood in front of the Secured Cities conference attendees today, he admitted that improving the safety of his constituents was no easy job. Despite that uphill battle, he said it was a life improvement to which the City of Brotherly Love was fully committed.

About the author: Geoff Kohl is conference director for Secured Cities.