New Zealand Police has a strength of about 13,000 sworn officers, who cover a lot of ground and effectively manage the law and order situation, thanks to technologies like geospatial and Artificial Intelligence, tells Jevon McSkimming, Assistant Commissioner, New Zealand Police, in an interview to Geospatial World.
Can you tell us about New Zealand Police and if the department uses technology in day-to-day operations?
We are an organization of about 13,000 sworn police officers. In terms of the size of the country, we are as big as the UK, but with only about 5 million people. So, we have got a lot of empty spaces. We have just over 300 police stations across the country, and people are spread far and wide, and are being connected through technologies such as geospatial, which is really important for us to understand. My function is to ensure that we have the capabilities to understand, utilize and apply to demand the latest technology so that we can see where our officers are, and inform them in a way that is geospatially led. In other words, it is about information that is location bound. One of the things today is that there is a lot of noise, and in most cases, it gets down to the frontline officer. By using mobile devices that can be geo-located, we are looking at sharing with our officers information that is relevant to their location, to the time when they are there and to the role that they are supposed to perform. We are using mapping systems to understand where they are and to notify them of the intelligence they need to know. It is more about resource optimization by sharing only the relevant information.
Does the department also use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning?
Yes, we are using Artificial Intelligence for public complaints. Every year, we get about a million and a half calls for service. In most cases, the caller does not know what case he/she is reporting. For example, if you are online, you need to know if it is a burglary, a theft or an assault. We have set up a digital system in which a complainant is asked to just tell his/her story and AI will figure out what case it is. We are at a very early stage of this and are just putting things in place. We are using AI in a digital avatar. We are working with a company called Soul Machines. We have an ambitious mission under which a digital police officer will be able to enter a kiosk and interpret what the complainant is saying and feeling. AI is driving a large part of this mission. For example, for me to walk into a police station and speak to someone, I need one person sitting there. If I have a kiosk that’s linked to a digital center, the person behind it can cater to at least 10 complaints at different stations. So, we can use these kiosks in supermarkets and other places where police can’t be present all the time.
How has geospatial technology improved the quality of operations?
We have been using geospatial technology for years. Our emergency center runs on geospatial technology. So, calls come in, it knows where the caller is, locates the closest officer and dispatches him. Through technology, we can now find out where our people and vehicles are, and if they are aligned with the demand that police face. We make sure that all officers are dispatched to the right places. Simply put, we try and make sure that we are where the demand is. Seeing our people helps us in effective deployment. Because without understanding your demand, you cannot enhance efficiency. You might have a strategy to reduce crime, but you need to know where your assets are, so that you know where to move them.
Do you think this technology makes the justice system more transparent?
It absolutely does. For example, we do all sorts of roadside ticketing for speeding. Everything is done through the iPhone, and all of them are geospatially enabled. As a result, we can see the parts of the country that have got more speeders, we can see how it flows in the criminal justice sector, and now it’s also available for the public to see. What also happens is when you use technology, rather than arresting people (which takes their freedom away from them and puts them in the criminal justice system), you get more options. For instance, if you can check an identity in here, verify it with the person’s driver’s license, then you don’t need to arrest him/her for the sake of verification. So, you are not going to the criminal justice sector just for identification. This way, the process becomes much more transparent and better for individuals. Technology supports us in carrying out our core business which is policing. We have a national command center, and being able to see our resources really helps.