New Zealand Police Introduces 'Ella', The First AI Police Officer In The Force


Artificial Intelligence has came a long way. With the advancements of technology and more reliable hardware, automation has come to more places doing even more things.

One of which, is at the New Zealand Police headquarters.

The first that Commissioner of Police Mike Bush introduced, is the self-service option called Police Connect. The electronic service points have touchscreen interface to provide some basic non-emergency services to the public 24 hours a day. Four prototype units are being trialed from 13 February 2020 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,” said the Commissioner.

“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."

Ella. the first AI-powered digital assistant in New Zealand Police. (Credit: New Zealand Police)

The next that goes to trial, is 'Ella' (Electronic Life-Like Assistant).

The Commissioner said that the digital assistant would be stationed in the lobby of Police’s National Headquarters starting on 17 February.

There, she can assist the team at the station, like welcoming visitors to the building, telling staff that they’ve arrived, and directing them to collect their passes. It can also talk to visitors about certain issues, answer some questions, including Police topics, like Police Vetting and the 105 non-emergency number.

Designed with the help of Intela AI and Soul Machines from New Zealand, Ella has been programmed to use voice, tone and body language to deliver a one-on-one service.

On a press release, Commissioner Bush said that:

"Ella is a digital person that is powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) 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."

Ella and Police Connect showcase how the New Zealand Police is embracing modern and emerging technology to improve its services to the public.

While the technologies involved can automate many repetitive and common tasks, they won't be replacing any staff, services, or offices, Commissioner Bush explained, adding that:

"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. 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."

The Police said that after three months on duty, Ella’s future on the force will be reviewed and evaluated.