Identifying and addressing threats to public safety is a challenge for urban areas across the United States. In Charlotte, North Carolina—a fast-growing metropolitan area—a 2017 survey of the city’s North End Smart District residents cites a willingness to address safety and security through the use of technology.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte—North Carolina’s urban research university—is working to determine ways technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), can automate the detection of common crimes in Charlotte, and eventually elsewhere. The researchers’ aim is to collaborate with community members to design innovative alert systems in collaboration with community members that notify residents of nearby suspicious behavior (based on data that identifies it as such) through cell phone notification or other methods.

A new project is changing the way communities detect and deter crime. Through the use of advanced technology, SmartSafe StreetScapes will:

  • Detect behavior identified as suspicious without targeting individual identities.
  • Monitor pedestrian and vehicular movement–and inform residents electronically of potential danger when it is spotted.
  • Identify behaviors that could place personal safety at risk–and know that help will be called electronically.
Smart City representation

Cameras positioned throughout neighborhoods identify suspicious behaviors and notify law enforcement.

NSF support

Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities Program, the researchers spearheading SmartSafe StreetScapes will work with residents of the North End Smart District neighborhood during a 36-month period to explore and co-design new intelligent policing technologies. The project has received multiple local and federal grants, including the NSF Smart and Connected Communities award, ”SCC: Building Safe and Secure Communities through Real-Time Edge Video Analytics” – (2018-2022) NSF Award No. 1737586, IRB Approved Study #18-0452.

Sophisticated pedestrian and vehicular traffic monitoring will inform the work of the researchers and community participants as they:

  • Explore emerging technologies, including miniaturized and autonomous computing systems, that detect street crime in real time
  • Determine effective ways for neighbors to receive warnings (via wireless technologies, customized alarms, or a combination of methods)
  • Engage in discussion about the collection of data that pinpoints behaviors rather than individuals’ identities to presume possible threats to public safety.

SmartSafe StreetScapes is targeted to deploy in identified neighborhoods in 2021 with the support and cooperation of the city of Charlotte, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Duke Energy. Prior to sharing a proposal with the public, the research team will work with the UNC Charlotte community to beta-test the technology.