Edmonton police use data, artificial intelligence to combat crime

Edmonton police chief wants to turn to AI to improve safety in the city
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton's police chief is looking to artificial intelligence to improve safety in Edmonton. As Vinesh Pratap explains, the police force is teaming up with the private sector.

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the Edmonton Police Service is looking to artificial intelligence (A.I.) to solve ongoing crime issues.

The EPS has launched a new initiative it says will use amalgamated data, A.I. and machine learning to combat crime in the city.

The Community Solutions Accelerator — believed to be the first of its kind in North America — will focus on the interconnected challenges affecting Edmonton such as crime, addictions, homelessness and mental health.

“A lot of this stuff can be stopped from happening,” Chief Dale McFee said, speaking at EPS southeast station Tuesday where he launched the CSA.

“Some elements of community policing will never change, but resources are limited, so we need to find new ways to respond to the problems that continue to impact our citizens, strain our healthcare services and overflow our criminal justice system,”  McFee said.

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“We cannot continue to do things the same way and expect a different outcome. We need to think differently, act differently and take some risks if we want to see real results for the vulnerable people in the community.”

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The chief says the tool is also about crime prevention, by also delving deeper in to the root cause of a person’s actions.

“If that person has mental health issues or addictive issues, we need to connect them to services, so he stops doing it again.”

The EPS said the CSA is a “ground-breaking new approach” to public safety that will use data from a number of sources as a “roadmap for change.” Police believe the solutions will not only benefit the safety and well-being of Edmontonians, but also be applied to other communities facing similar challenges.

“We cannot solve anything in isolation. The Community Solutions Accelerator is driven entirely by the collaboration of our various communities and the data that is available,” McFee said.

“This is our opportunity to make a quantum leap in policing, and to take community safety and wellness into the next century.”

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The EPS is working with the Edmonton Police Foundation and several corporate partners to attract talent and technology partners to bring the CSA to fruition. Corporate partners will contribute resources such as funding, lab space, IT infrastructure, technical supports and research expertise.

One of those corporate partners is ATB Financial, which the chief indicated has the “ability to scale up quicker; the ability to bring expertise that we don’t have.”

There are questions about privacy, but Camille Weleschuk, a vice-president with ATB, said the information they will be “redacted.”

“You wouldn’t know the information behind it, so very private, very secure.”

“We’re going to invite entrepreneurs, innovators, researchers from all over the world to work on these problems.”

Ashif Mawji, the chair of the Edmonton Police Foundation, said the information which will be given to the private partners will be “synthetic data.”

“The machine actually goes in and creates brand new data, completely fictitious, but uses the same core ingredients.”

Mawji indicated the other potential benefit is that the solutions could potentially be commercialized, creating a new home-grown industry.

“We’re going to give them that ability,” said Mawji, adding, “But selfishly, we want to solve our problems.”

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“The CSA is an exciting venture with a lot of promise because it utilizes a very creative and different way of looking at problems that has yielded significant advances in other industries.”

In launching the new endeavour, a caution that not all the new ideas which emerge will work, but for Chief McFee the status quo isn’t the answer.

“The sky’s the limit, let’s think differently.”

The EPS said the CSA will be evaluated on how well it mitigates harm to individuals and reduces criminal activity.