Police embrace AI technology

Police’s digital person Ella was designed in close collaboration with New Zealand company Soul Machines. Images: New Zealand Police.

People will now be able to access police services through different mediums.

Two trials beginning today are a new self-service option called Police Connect and a digital person named Ella.

The services showcase the innovative ways New Zealand Police is modernising its services and will not replace any staff, services, or offices, says commissioner of police Mike Bush.

Police Connect are electronic service points that provide some basic non-emergency services to the public 24 hours a day.

Four prototype units are being trialed from tomorrow at Wellington Central, Featherston and Johnsonville Police Stations.

“Police Connect is about creating more options for the public so they can choose how, where and when they contact us,” says Mike.

“Much like online reporting at 105.police.govt.nz and the new police app, we see Police Connect becoming an important tool that will enable our non-emergency services to be in more places, more of the time.”

The touch-screen prototypes have three key functions: report a non-emergency incident, speak with someone from police, and find answers to commonly asked questions.

“We’ll be making improvements based on what we learn from the trial, but we intend to roll Police Connect out to other police stations, and possibly even public locations such as shopping malls, transport centres and major events, in the near future,” says Mike.

Along with the Police Connect trial, police’s Electronic Life-Like Assistant, Ella, will be stationed in the lobby of police’s national headquarters from Monday, February 17 assisting the concierge team and talking to visitors about topics such as the 105 non-emergency number and police vetting.

“Ella is a digital person that is powered by artificial intelligence and uses real-time animation to emulate face-to-face interactions.”

“Her capabilities are basic at this stage as she is a proof of concept, but we see some real benefits of digital person technology if we can equip the AI with more knowledge and capabilities, and it can learn from more interactions.

“This trial is designed to help police understand if a digital person makes sense in a policing context, but Ella could eventually provide a variety of non-emergency services and advice in more places and on more devices, such as the NZ Police app and Police Connect.”

Indoor and outdoor Police Connect prototype units.

Mike says Ella and Police Connect show how police is embracing and exploring digital technologies to develop future-proofed and people-focused non-emergency services accessible to everyone in New Zealand.

“We know that across the country people still want to engage face-to-face with local police in their community, and we will always do this,” says Commissioner Bush.

“We’re in the process of recruiting 1800 new staff to bolster our frontline and ensure we have the capabilities to deliver the best services, emergency and non-emergency, to everyone in New Zealand.

“But technology is transforming the way the public want and expect to interact with organisations and their services – and Police is no different.

“We’ve achieved a lot this past year with the 105 non-emergency number, online reporting and NZ Police app making it easier for the public to access and receive the services and information they want, when they want, and in the ways that suit them.

“But we’re very much just starting this journey, as Police Connect, Ella and other modern digital technologies present many more exciting opportunities for us to provide new and improved policing services.”

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