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TPS looks to bots to field some non-emergency calls
The logo for Toronto Police Service is seen in this undated file image.
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, February 25, 2020 1:24PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 25, 2020 1:40PM EST
The Toronto Police Service wants to spend nearly $2 million on designing new software that it says could carry out work otherwise performed by paid employees, including the fielding of some non-emergency calls.
At a meeting scheduled for this afternoon, the Toronto Police Services board will be asked to approve a $1.9 million contract with Price Waterhouse Coopers to “design, build and deliver two bots.”
Police Chief Mark Saunders says that one of the bots would be used to respond to the “huge influx of disclosure demands” that police receive for audio files of 911 calls.
Saunders say that civilian employees with the Audio and Data Services unit are currently responsible for responding to the requests, many of which come from Crown Attorneys who are entitled access but still need to follow a process for requesting it.
Saunders says that in order to deal with the “significant backlog” that now exists, the city would have to hire 46 more civilian employees and one fulltime police officer.
He said that using a bot instead would save the service approximately $4.8 million a year.
The second bot, meanwhile, would be used to log some non-emergency calls to the Toronto police communications centre.
Saunders said that about 20 per cent of the total volume of calls for the entire call centre – roughly 230,000 per year – come in the form of “parking complaints from residents, property managers, building security, and businesses.”
He said that a bot could take caller’s information over the phone and then create an electronic record, which would be sent directly to dispatch.
Sanders stressed that there will be no reduction in staffing at the police call centre as a result of the use of the bots. Instead, he said that the program will be a “means of creating internal capacity to improve response times to both emergency and non-emergency calls.”
“If communication operators did nothing but answer parking complaints at an average call time of 2.5 minutes per call, then this bot would do the work of approximately six full time communication operators, that would then not have to be hired, saving the service approximately $705,000 annually,” he wrote in a report to the board.
The money to pay for the design and support of the bots is expected to come out of a $3 million grant that the TPS was given by the province.
Saunders said that the first bot to respond to requests for audio of 911 calls is expected to be completed this month at a cost of $417,455.
He said that the second bot will cost about $1.2 million to design and build but will have the added benefit of creating “a technological foundation upon which other bots can take non-emergency calls for service beyond just parking complaints.”
“These future bots will cost less money because some of the storage and software costs will have been paid for in the creation of the parking bot,” he said.