New Springville police chief sworn in 01

Newly-instated Springville Police Chief Craig Martinez jokes with community members after a swearing-in ceremony for the former Orem public information officer Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at the Springville Civic Center. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The amount of time it takes for emergency responders to assist a victim or for police to find an abducted child could soon drastically reduce in Springville as the city’s police department considers partnering with an artificial intelligence company aimed at helping law enforcement work more efficiently.

Banjo, a technology company based in Park City, gathers real-time data from various sources — 911 dispatch calls, traffic cameras, emergency alarms, social media posts — and synthesizes the information in a way that lets police respond to emergencies significantly more quickly than they would otherwise be able to.

“Live (information) makes a difference,” CEO Damien Patton said at the 2019 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit.

Last July, Banjo entered a cooperation agreement with the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah Department of Public Safety (UDOT) that lets the agencies use Banjo’s technology to “reduce time and resources typically required to generate leads, and instead focus their efforts on incident response,” according to a report given to the state legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee. The agreement will cost the state $2.2 million a year.

“Reduced response times, with accurate information and locations, saves lives,” the report said.

Now, some cities, including Springville, are considering partnering with Banjo so that their police departments can respond to emergencies more effectively.

In its Jan. 7 meeting, the Springville City Council heard from a Banjo representative who explained how the artificial intelligence technology worked and how local law enforcement could benefit from it, Springville Police Chief Craig Martinez said.

Martinez said he first heard about Banjo when Patton spoke at last year’s Governor’s Public Safety Summit. The police chief was impressed with the technology and thought it could enable his department “to do our job more effectively and quicker.”

Martinez gave the example of a child abduction case. Normally, police would get a 911 call informing them of a kidnapping and wait for leads to develop, which could take hours. Using Banjo, however, police would get real-time data from UDOT cameras, social media and sex offender registries and be able to develop leads within minutes.

If someone reported the suspect as being a white male in a red car, then Banjo would send police a push notification of registered sex offenders who are white males and who own red cars, said Martinez.

“So it basically takes things and speeds them up a lot quicker than things we’d have to manually search on our own,” he said.

The city council did not make a decision during the Jan. 7 meeting, but attitudes toward the partnership seemed “pretty positive,” Martinez said.

Some lawmakers have criticized the technology, arguing that its application in police departments could undermine civil liberties and pose a serious threat to privacy.

“I just see us asking for $2.2 million a year to be Big Brother,” Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said during a committee meeting on Aug. 20. “It’s a slippery slope.”

Martinez said Utahns don’t need to worry about their privacy being invaded. The program strips social media posts of any personal information, and therefore what police see is anonymous.

Additionally, it only gives police access to information that is already public, like UDOT camera feeds.

“And we don’t sit and watch them” all day, Martinez said, adding that police typically only check those cameras when there is a crime or emergency that may have been caught on film.

Patton, Banjo’s founder, agrees that individual rights need to be taken into account when working with artificial intelligence. During his talk at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, he said the company only uses anonymized information “to make sure that people’s data is used in a responsible way.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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