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New ‘Robocop’

Wairarapa Police Area Commander Scott Miller at Featherston’s new Police Connect system. PHOTO/MARCUS ANSELM

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Featherston became home to Wairarapa’s first “Robocop” yesterday.

New Zealand police opened a three-month pilot for their online Police Connect system, and a digital officer named “Ella”.

Featherston’s police station is the first in Wairarapa to trial the services.

Police Connect is a self-service terminal that provides basic non-emergency services to the public 24 hours a day.

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

There is also a phone handset available.

Ella, which stands for “electronic life-like assistant”, is a prototype digital person powered by artificial intelligence [AI] and uses real-time animation.

National police commander Mike Bush said Ella was “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.”

Wairarapa area commander Scott Miller said the features tied in with the additional police resource dedicated to the southern towns.

This included tactical and crime units, and a 24-hour police presence across Greytown, Martinborough, Featherston, and Carterton.

“Everything we said we were bringing to the South Wairarapa police is now in place. And these systems are extra because the South Wairarapa stations aren’t open 24 hours.”

Miller said this was one of four units across three locations across the wider Wellington region.

Greytown police campaigner Warren Woodgyer was less enthusiastic about the prospect.

Woodgyer led a campaign last year to return sole charge police officers to Greytown and Martinborough.

“Up until now, we have held off presenting our petition to Parliament on the re-establishment of a 24/7 community constable living and working in Greytown,” he said.

“The reason for this was that we were led to believe the old police station would be opened and an officer in duty for up to 40 hours per week.

“Is “Ella” what we are going to see in Greytown?

“It’s not what the 1300-plus people, including the business people, in Greytown signed the petition for.”

The console will be at Featherston’s station for an initial three-month trial.

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