Vic­tim of a crime? You’ll have to talk to our robo­cop

The Mail on Sunday - - Tina Weaver - By Martin Beck­ford HOME AF­FAIRS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

CRIME vic­tims will soon ‘talk’ to a com­puter when they con­tact po­lice to re­port of­fences.

Po­lice ‘chat­bots’ will take re­ports from mem­bers of the pub­lic by text mes­sage or on­line, record­ing de­tails of their or­deal and giv­ing ad­vice in re­sponse, un­der the new sys­tem.

Vic­tims us­ing an Ama­zon Alexa will be able to ac­tu­ally speak with the ‘robo­cop’ and hear its replies. The chat­bot will also record ev­i­dence such as CCTV footage.

As The Mail on Sun­day has re­ported, po­lice forces across Eng­land and Wales are in­creas­ingly keen for the pub­lic to re­port crimes on­line rather than in per­son or over the phone.

But Northamp­ton­shire Po­lice is tak­ing this a stage fur­ther with the in­tro­duc­tion of the com­puter pro­gram that will re­place con­trol-room call han­dlers.

Po­lice chiefs hope the sys­tem be­ing launched by the force later this month will cut de­mand on the 101 non-emer­gency num­ber and save money.

But crit­ics say it risks mak­ing the po­lice yet more re­mote, fol­low­ing the clo­sure of hun­dreds of po­lice sta­tions and the ax­ing of thou­sands of ‘bob­bies on the beat’.

Si­mon Clif­ford, Di­rec­tor of Tech­nol­ogy and Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion for Northamp­ton­shire’s polic­ing tsar, told The Mail on Sun­day that the ‘Dig­i­tal 101’ project will ‘al­low wider en­gage­ment via chat soft­ware on phones/com­put­ers’.

He said: ‘It will al­low the re­port­ing of crime, in­tel­li­gence re­ports and the de­liv­ery of po­lice in­for­ma­tion akin to call­ing 101 through an in­tu­itive in­ter­face on users’ pre­ferred com­mu­ni­ca­tions plat­form in­clud- i n g Face­book Mes­sen­ger, Skype and What­sApp.’

In a pre­sen­ta­tion given to a re­cent con­fer­ence on ‘bot’ tech­nol­ogy, Clif­ford ex­plained that the tech­nol­ogy was be­ing in­tro­duced be­cause po­lice are los­ing ev­i­dence and in­tel­li­gence as ‘too many calls are left on hold’ by con­trol-room call op­er­a­tives.

He also stressed that the new sys­tem helped the po­lice ‘cap­ture video, data and text’ ev­i­dence.

It was de­vel­oped for smart­phoneusers be­cause of their pop­u­lar­ity, he said, and be­cause ‘peo­ple pre­fer the im­me­di­acy’ of text chat.

It will work on ex­ist­ing plat­forms such as Face­book Mes­sen­ger, What­sApp, Snapchat and Skype rather than a ded­i­cated po­lice app, as this will ‘re­duce cost’.

As well as tak­ing in in­for­ma­tion from crime vic­tims, the chat­bot will be able to give out ad­vice and is­sue wit­ness ap­peals.

A re­port seen by this news­pa­per shows that the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice, Bri­tain’s big­gest force, is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing the tech­nol­ogy.

The re­port pre­dicts that within 18 months, po­lice will re­ceive calls from de­vices such as Ap­ple watches and Fit­bit bands, or cars equipped with new emer­gency sys­tems.

‘That con­tact may be trig­gered by the hu­man is­su­ing a com­mand to their bot, or it may be au­to­mat­i­cally gen­er­ated by the bot through AI,’ it said.

Last night Harry Fletcher, or­gan­iser of the new All-Party Par­lia­men­tary Group on Vic­tims of Crime, said: ‘This is more ev­i­dence of po­lice be­com­ing more and more re­mote from the com­mu­nity and vic­tims they serve.

‘To ask peo­ple to talk to a com­puter rather than a per­son min­imises the im­pact of the crime and risks un­der­min­ing vic­tims’ con­fi­dence in the jus­tice sys­tem.’

‘Crit­ics say it risks mak­ing po­lice yet more re­mote’

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