Blue Line

Next-gen policing: Innovations shaping the future of law enforcement

May 27, 2024  By Brittani Schroeder

Chief Nishan Duraiappah and Melinda Morley, call taker at Communications. Photo: Peel Regional Police

In an era where technology evolves at a breakneck pace, law enforcement agencies worldwide are in a constant race to adapt. Over the last two decades, numerous advancements have transformed the landscape for officers on the front lines. Looking ahead, the trajectory of technological innovation promises even more profound impacts on policing practices and community dynamics.

Chief Nishan Duraiappah of Peel Regional Police (PRP), a seasoned leader at the forefront of modern policing, is always forthcoming with his insights into the pivotal role of technology in today’s law enforcement landscape.

In a discussion with Blue Line, Duraiappah delved into the transformative potential of technology and its implications for policing strategies and community engagement in an ever-evolving society.

A look back

Since Duraiappah’s first days on the job in 1996, he has seen many changes in how police perform their daily duties. Still, he’d say the biggest change came with regard to communication abilities and being able to send and receive data over cellular and wireless networks.

“When I started as an officer at Halton Regional Police, the only way to send an email was from one particular computer. You couldn’t send messages from your vehicles,” he said. “Now we’ve progressed so far that there is electronic notetaking, digital imaging, geofencing, drones and more.”

When looking at the last four years that he’s been chief of police, Duraiappah shared that some of the biggest advancements for his team were body-worn cameras, licence plate reader technology, NG9-1-1, AI and a public safety broadband network.

Body-worn cameras are not necessarily new, but Duraiappah recognizes that the science behind them is always evolving. Now, the cameras can stream directly into a Community Operations Centre (otherwise known as a Real Time Operations Centre) where the interaction can be viewed live. “We are now able to have a third-party mental health provider watch the live feed, provide feedback and direction, and maybe even assist with a referral to community resources,” he shared.

Licence plate reader technology is another tool that may not be new to the market but has made a real difference to officers. Duraiappah explained that this tool assists greatly with detecting crimes and cutting down time at traffic stops. Ultimately, it also helps with road safety for everyone involved.

Peel Regional Police reached a milestone in Feb. 2024 by becoming the first major 9-1-1 communications centre in Canada to launch Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) services. “We have a very large urban communication centre and the 9-1-1 wait times have been the bane of our community’s existence for a long time. NG9-1-1 presented a huge opportunity for us,” he said. NG9-1-1 can identify misuse calls and pocket redials, which will help to discern which calls need a human’s attention and response.

The creation of a public safety broadband network has helped PRP to achieve network resiliency, cybersecurity and reliability. This is PRP’s internal data network, and as Duraiappah shared, it helps avoid paying fees to a telecom company. PRP has been able to deploy this broadband network to peak incidents that require ample first responders and public safety personnel, such as the annual Grey Cup, and have ongoing discussions to utilize the recent solar eclipse mass gatherings as an opportunity with other police agencies.

Peel Regional Police is undergoing lengthy conversations with community members to understand the impacts of future technologies and how artificial intelligence (AI) can help them. An example of this technology is facial recognition software, or being able to quickly dispatch fire and paramedics, and other services like tow trucks. Duraiappah believes AI can also help police understand the community’s needs better.

When thinking about all the technology available to police today, Duraiappah shared that “it all comes down to the art of possibility, really. The opportunities are endless.”

A look at safety

When Duraiappah considers the safety of his team and police officers across Canada, one of the biggest advancements in this area is the ability to track them at any given point. “Having vehicle logistics and data and knowing where our people are is a game-changer,” he said. “Even 20 years ago, if an officer wasn’t using their radio, you wouldn’t have any idea where they were.”

Drone first responders are also a plus on the safety side. “For the first time, we’re able to send in a mini drone to get video coverage before we send an officer into a building. These drones can also get into places where officers may not physically be able to. We’re finding those who may be in crisis while also protecting our people.” Unfortunately, this procedure doesn’t work in every situation, but Duraiappah shared that it’s utilized if and when it can be.

In Duraiappah’s eyes, when it comes to technology and safety, as much as it has aided his officers, he sees that it has equally aided civilians in Canadian communities.

Photo: Peel Regional Police

A look at support

Technological advances must be applied to supporting policing facilities as well. In Oct. 2023, PRP, in partnership with DIALOG Design, broke ground on a new Operational Support Facility that will house their critical infrastructure and technologies, including the 911 centre, IT services, records services, real-time operations centre, emergency operations centre, and more.

“This building will be a flagship building, state-of-the-art for innovation in policing,” said Executive Advisor Robert Shearer, who has been with PRP for 36 years—35 as a sworn officer.

The current Sir Robert Peel facility was built in 1981, and in recent years, it has fallen short of what today’s law enforcement members need. DIALOG Design came on to the project in 2022 to start the design process. The team broke ground in Oct. 2023 and the building is set to be completed in 2028.

Duraiappah shared that PRP spends a lot of time on their people because they know it’s important to invest in them. “We need to think of the tools they need, and that includes tech.”

The new building is being built to net zero carbon standards and is one of the first police facilities in Canada to do so. “Mass timber construction will be a hallmark feature for this facility, providing a building material that is natural, renewable, sustainable and built to last,” said Shearer

Net zero carbon standards

As Anthony Fieldman, partner at DIALOG Design, said, the very first principle of environmental stewardship is to reduce the amount of materials needed, and that has been the goal for this project.

The next principle is to put energy sources where they function most efficiently. For the PRP project, this included using under-floor air delivery, rather than overhead ducts blowing cold air past hot air. “By having a low-velocity displacement ventilation system, the air percolates out of the floor up to where people are sitting or standing—which is closer to the floor than the ceiling. This allows us to put the air where it’s needed most, and there’s a greater measure of control,” said Fieldman.

“It all comes down to the art of possibility. The opportunities are endless.” – Chief Nishan Duraiappah

A third principle takes a look at material health and sustainable material use. For this project, mass timber is being used for the structure, which is a more renewable source than concrete or steel. The project is also using domestic resources. All combined, this equals a high use of primary, renewable, low negative-impact materials.

The building will sit on a 7.2 acre lot, which sits adjacent to the local fire service and paramedic buildings. The building itself will take as small a portion of the land as possible, and the site will be designed with ‘green features’ with porosity for stormwater management. “There will be all sorts of other landscape-oriented mechanisms, like bioswales, that allow the site to not be a burden on the stormwater system,” said Fieldman.

Innovation for members

As the design work for the building began, Fieldman and his team held interviews with the many departments that would be housed in this new building to discover the priorities and ‘big picture goals’ of all those involved. “We needed to work beyond just fulfilling the functional requirements. We needed to engender physical and mental health amongst the officers and personnel who would be working inside the building,” he said. From these interviews, a set of driving principles were created and helped to guide the building designs.

For both PRP and DIALOG Design, it was paramount to design a facility that catered to the mental health of its occupants. Inside the new facility, there will be a series of indoor and outdoor gardens, a community room, and even rooms that can be booked by community groups external to PRP. The locker rooms, cafeteria and fitness centre will all be located on the third floor, as this presents equal access to personnel working on any of the five stories.

“It’s paramount that we create an environment that supports the members of PRP. We firmly believe that the quality of the environment in the building influences—positively—the impact that the people who work in our buildings will have on people outside of the building,” said Fieldman.

As a sworn member, Shearer ran the communication centre as the superintendent, and he could recognize the ‘fishbowl’ that his staff worked in. “There was nowhere to escape to. In this new building, they will have plenty of places to turn to,” he said.

“What I said to the team is, this project was a yesterday task—it needed to happen immediately because our support facilities are crucial to community safety. The building needed to be innovative and progressive, and it needed to be an inclusive environment for all. It needs to last for 20-30 years,” said Duraiappah. The team, including Deputy Chief Anthony Odoardi – Innovation and Technology, Robert Shearer, and Director Shawn Fauvelle – Facilities Management, got to work right away.

Eastern Construction Corporation Limited was hired to build this facility, as they bring to the project extensive experience in low-carbon buildings and heavy timber construction.

“Employee collaboration was a guiding principle in the design of this building,” said Fauvelle. “Collaboration spaces have been purposely designed to make a connection to nature with an abundance of natural light, which will enhance the employee-centric look and feel of the workplace and make this an inviting work environment for our people.”

“The OSF demonstrates a strong commitment to our members and the community that PRP will continue to provide world-class police services,” said Odoardi. “The OSF will enable PRP to enhance our ability to modernize and innovate, in a structure that affirms our pledge to be sustainability leaders who are charting the course for future generations on the importance of preserving the well-being of both employees and the surrounding community.”

A look ahead

Duraiappah does not find it surprising that technology runs faster than the speed of policing. “It’s constantly evolving, but it’s getting more expensive. Technology can be controversial at times, but it’s also extremely helpful.”

He believes in order for policing to stay abreast of new technology, two things are needed.

First, vendors need to engage with police services much earlier in the product development process. “Often, vendors will fully produce a piece of tech and then leave it to the police chiefs to explain its legitimacy to their police board and the community,” he said. “We need the vendors to come to us, work alongside us—the ones who serve public safety, who understand what the community needs—and build the technology with us involved.”

The second piece of the puzzle is for the police to engage with the community far earlier. “Such bright minds are creating these new solutions, and law enforcement sees the value of this new tech, but it’s often piloted without asking the community first.” Duraiappah knows the community wants to contribute to how officers utilize tech. There is always the worry that the community will say to not use the technology, but Duraiappah believes if they were involved from the beginning and understood the potential pros and cons, alternatively, they could become supporters of the products.

Knowing that he and his team only get to steward the PRP organization for a little while before passing it on, Duraiappah hopes that the advancements in technology that he has seen ushered in will only continue to increase.

“A rising tide floats all boats. Across our sector, there is a greater willingness today to bring each other along. Because of this, it’s not all about one police service or agency; it’s about everyone,” he said. “I always say to Anthony [Odoardi] and Tony [Ventura, director of information technology services] that everything we do is for the greater good. We know urban pressures and crime will change, and you can see that now with auto thefts, extortions, international geopolitical issues, etc. There’s no template for it, but if you’re flexible and you’re able to push into the art of possibility, I think there’s a lot of optimism for not just policing in Peel, but across the country.”

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