Edmonton police seek public’s help to pay for high-tech crime-fighting centre

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WATCH ABOVE: The Edmonton Police Service is hoping to get a command centre that would use artificial intelligence to solve crime. As Fletcher Kent reports, the facility would cost about $5 million – Feb 5, 2018

Police Chief Rod Knecht calls the proposed facility “the future of policing.”

The Operations Intelligence & Command Centre is where all the information that police officers need or want goes.

Police databases, CCTV feeds, even public Facebook updates would all flow into the centre. Staff and artificial intelligence programs would then filter through the mountains of data to find the relevant nuggets needed by officers in the field.

During a crisis, information and speed is everything.

“If you’ve got a child abduction, seconds or minutes are a complete game changer,” Knecht said. “So for us to do that in the old way, it’s going to take much, much longer.”

Knecht and the chair of the Edmonton Police Foundation spoke Monday on the Ryan Jespersen show about the proposed facility.

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“If you’ve watched shows like 24, it’s similar. And you’ve seen on those shows in that world how impactful those centres are. The same can happen here.”

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Proponents argue such a centre would both help solve crimes and even prevent them — telling police where and when crimes are most likely to be committed.

High-tech means high prices.

The police foundation is in the middle of trying to raise $5 million to pay for the centre. So far, it has collected about $1 million from business. Now, the foundation is asking the public to contribute — just as it did nearly 20 years ago when it raised the money to pay for the Air-1 police helicopter.

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Mawji feels like it’s a perfect fit. He feels the centre would make Edmonton safer and build on its strengths.

“What I’m really excited about is, with Edmonton being a hub of artificial intelligence and machine learning, I think coupling that with what law enforcement has with the data, we could do things here that no other city in the world has done.”

According to the foundation, five other North American cities have a similar operation, including Calgary and Toronto.

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The Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association says it’s not something Edmontonians should want, far less give money for.

“Absolutely, there are privacy concerns,” Sharon Polsky said. “We’re now to the point that we’re under constant scrutiny.”

Polsky says constant scrutiny leads to a chilling effect in the public. She also says predictive policing tends to lead to profiling. From a civil liberties perspective, that’s concerning.

“Do we want that in Canada in our democracy? I think not.”

Knecht says police are very focused on privacy. They’ve consulted with Alberta’s Privacy Commissioner in planning the new centre. Knecht also says police can only use data it could access today. Even high-tech facilities require warrants to access private information.

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Ultimately, Knecht says the proposed facility will simply make Edmonton safer and he hopes Edmontonians will contribute to it.

The Operations Intelligence & Command Centre is slated to open this December. New software and abilities would be added as the money is raised.

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