How smart
street lights
can help deter
crime and
improve safety
in cities

Author: Scott Steinberg

A cornerstone of the smart city movement, smart street lights, also known as intelligent lighting, allow municipalities to remotely operate, preprogram, dim, turn on or shut off a single or a group of lights from a centralized management system (CMS). The conversion of high pressure sodium (HPS) lights to LEDs and the use of smart street light systems hold the potential to reduce the estimated national street light energy cost of $15.6 billion a year by an average of 70%.

However, this isn't the only benefit smart cities can yield from implementing this approach. Smart street lights can help deter crime, enhance services and improve public safety. When paired with wireless motion detection sensors, which activate lights when movement is detected, and with near real-time notifications, which provide alerts when lights go out or other concerns arise, they can also help promote greater civic safety as well.

What's more, today's most advanced systems can convert LED lighting fixtures into smart devices or control nodes that can continuously capture and transmit information on demand. Capable of being retrofitted to existing lampposts, intelligent lighting systems leverage high-speed wireless connectivity, cloud computing and analytics to offer more sustainable ways to manage energy use, reduce operational costs and promote public safety. Equipped with a growing array of environmental sensors, smart street lights go beyond providing city leaders with a network of Internet of Things (IoT)-powered safety and potential watch posts on virtually every corner. Their data-gathering and analytics capabilities can also help illuminate what's happening on the streets in ways that can help government planners design smarter, more efficient cities—and explore the correlation between smart street lights and crime prevention. 

Street lights and crime: The future of public safety in intelligent cities

Given their fast-growing range of computing features and applications for city planning, some industry watchdogs have argued that the future of smart cities lies in streetlights. According to market researcher Northeast Group, over 90% of city streetlights will be LED-powered and 35% will be connected by 2029. The reasons for this extend beyond the energy and cost savings already discussed. It's also because smart streetlights hold the potential, particularly when paired with 5G and multi-access edge computing, to help reinvent the way municipal leaders manage cities.

This technology can leverage preexisting city infrastructure elements and can be equipped with added hardware technologies (e.g., internet-connected cameras, loudspeakers and wireless data transmitters) and software upgrades (i.e., artificial intelligence and machine learning programs) over time. Smart street lights are becoming more capable of enhancing operational efficiency, boosting safety and improving constituent satisfaction.

Research by the University of Chicago and Crime Lab New York found areas with increased lighting "experienced crime rates that were significantly lower" than those without. Based on their findings around street lights and crime, housing developments equipped with intelligent lighting systems enjoyed increasing levels of lighting that led to a 36% drop in personal- and property-related incidents. Other research also indicates violent crimes can be reduced by improving environmental lighting.

Smart city technology, which includes smart street lights, has additional potential public safety use cases as well. Below are a few examples:

  • Evacuations and warnings: Digital signage and speakers can provide a mechanism for public announcements
  • Traffic monitoring: Real-time information provided by sensors can help make cities safer, greener and smarter
  • Sound detection: Notification systems can be deployed
  • Situational awareness: Smart street lights paired with video technology can help capture a comprehensive view of an incident or situation in near real-time.

Intelligent lighting has many forward-looking aspects and applications

Hailed by CityLab Insights as an easy choice for cities not sure where to start with smart city initiatives, intelligent lighting offers municipalities myriad benefits. Beyond enjoying roughly 70% energy savings and reduced operational expenses, cities also gain the ability to lay the foundation for other smart city capabilities and applications. Put simply, thanks to smart street lights' IoT and connected capabilities, which allow them to collect near real-time data and speak with other devices, they can serve as a connective tissue that helps tie tomorrow's smart city together.

Smart street lights have many other benefits beyond public safety:

Illuminating what's next for city planning and development

Given smart street lights' growing footprint and capabilities, public safety agencies are already working to stay one step ahead of potential privacy-related concerns. Nationwide, numerous cities are introducing stronger ordinances governing the use and oversight of data-gathering, facial recognition and surveillance systems. By instituting new policy standards and guidelines that help protect citizens' privacy, and promoting greater public/private sector collaboration, they aim to curb potential hiccups. Going forward, the work of municipal task forces and committees to research and discuss emerging areas of concern will only continue as well.

Noting smart street lighting's many upsides and the fundamental role it can play as a basic building block in smart city design, it's important to work with a trusted, experienced partner on upcoming rollouts. Intelligent lighting can help save energy and gain unprecedented control over your lighting infrastructure. It can also help you access an ever-growing array of smart city applications and innovations that can help you lay the groundwork for a brighter future.

Learn more about how Verizon can help you save energy and improve public safety with smart street lighting technology.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.