IcARUS mid-term conference: harnessing 35 years of local policies and practices to design innovative solutions

Riga, Latvia, March 2022 – How can European local/regional authorities, practitioners and academics better work together to harness the wealth of knowledge acquired over three decades of local urban security policies and make our cities safer for all? This was the theme of the Efus-led IcARUS project’s mid-term conference, which gathered some 80 participants – local elected officials, security practitioners, academics, and civil society organisations – in Riga (Latvia) on 12-13 May.

Titled 35 years of local urban security policies: what tools and methods to respond to tomorrow’s challenges? the event marked the mid-point of the four-year project whose objective is to rethink, (re-)design and adapt tools and methods to help local security actors anticipate and better respond to security challenges.

A review of the knowledge base on urban security

Adam Crawford, Professor of Criminology at the University of Leeds, presented key findings of the state of the art review and inventory of tools and practices conducted by the project, looking back at 35 years of urban security research and practice.

Here are the main takeaways:

Research should also encompass implementation and cost-benefits

The focus of research on urban security is primarily placed on intervention mechanisms, outcomes and effects. Yet, some of the aspects which are of utmost importance for practitioners are not or barely reflected, notably implementation and cost-benefit.

Evaluation is important to inform accumulated learning, but practice evaluations are not yet thoroughly applied and there is also a lack of mainstreaming and sustaining good practices and successful interventions.

Adopting a multi-stakeholder approach from the onset

The implementation of problem-oriented approaches requires a change from the outset: instead of starting a multi-stakeholder collaboration after the problem has been defined by a single-agency organisational perspective (e.g. police) the multi-stakeholder approach must be implemented before to define the problem and include different perspectives.

Joining up academic research, policy-making and practice

The question of how to harness the knowledge on research and practice accumulated over the past 35 years was further developed in a panel session, which focused on how to strengthen and improve cooperation between research and urban security policies and practices.

Speakers noted that each category of urban stakeholders work on different time-frames and with a different finality: political decision-makers need results within the electoral cycle; researchers are not always aware of the constraints of both political decision-makers and practitioners on the ground, and the latter often find it difficult to collaborate with academics when implementing projects due to a lack of formalised cooperation structures. The panellists noted that mutual understanding between the different actors must be enhanced,  which includes acknowledging the others’  different time-frames, needs and constraints.

A research-based approach in Mannheim

In the city of Mannheim, the Deputy Mayor introduced a research-based approach into urban security policy-making processes in order to inform the political debates in the city council and convey the importance of evidence-based urban security interventions and prevention.

Panellists and participants concluded that urban security stakeholders, whatever their specific field, must be able to innovate and even take risks, which means they all need to overcome a prevailing culture of blame and share both success stories and failures in order to learn and evolve.

Other takeaways

Other key topics explored by the IcARUS project were discussed during the day-and-a-half conference. Here are the key takeaways:

How to design inclusive and safe public spaces?

  • Thedesign and management of public spaces must include end-users and their knowledge about their expectations and use of their local public spaces.
  • Too often, public space security is presented through a negative lens (i.e. the risks and nuisance to be avoided), rather than a positive one (places where citizens can gather and express themselves, for example). We need to emphasise the positive and desired aspects of public spaces.
  • The perspective of women, vulnerable groups and other users must be included from the outset, starting with the analysis or assessment phase.

Strengthening the resilience of young people

  • We need to look at youth and see solutions rather than risks or threats. It is important to make people feel useful because they are often deprived of this opportunity.
  • Developing resilience is increasingly seen as a valuable approach that works best when nurtured by wide local partnerships, which should include police (whether local or not).
  • It is important to deconstruct stereotypes on both sides, i.e. the police and other public authorities on the one hand and local youngsters on the other.

 Technology and urban security

  • The design and use of technologies for security should be human-centred and take into account the specificities of each local context.
  • ●      Among the ‘human values’ to be incorporated in any urban security technology deployment are: human welfare, trust and privacy.
  • A valuable tool for an ethical use of technology is the EU Regulatory Framework on Artificial Intelligence (April 2021), which defines the level of acceptability of a range of technologies and uses (from minimal to unacceptable risk).

Challenges of prevention in a changing landscape of radicalisation

  • As the level of governance closest to citizens, local authorities are best placed to prevent radicalisation by enhancing social cohesion and mobilising local partners and networks to this end.
  • In the past few years, our democratic societies have seen anti-democratic leaders come to power in some countries. Authoritarianism and anti-democratic extremisms are moving closer to the centre of society.
  • Polarising and divise narratives that attempt to undermine democratic principles are increasingly spread by actors who are members of the social and economic elite and use the anger created by social exclusion to feed their own agenda.
  • It is crucial to adapt local prevention strategies to respond to these evolving dynamics and new realities of radicalisation.

> More information about IcARUS

> The minutes of all the conference sessions will be shortly available on Efus Network (members only)