Edmonton police develop guidelines on tech use after DNA phenotype backlash

The service aims to create “a more robust consultative process to better understand the use of new technologies and the potential impact they may have”.

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The Edmonton Police Department and its oversight agency will develop a framework for using technology to seek tips for investigations after a “highly generalized” image of black people released through DNA phenotyping drew public criticism.

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EPS Community Safety and Wellbeing Chief Operating Officer Enyinnah Okere outlined to the Edmonton Police Commission Thursday the decision behind the release of the photo, which was based on DNA obtained from a 2019 sexual assault investigation, The DNA has turned cold.

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it sparked a public backlash Broadly characterize the black suspect, and Stigmatize and criminalize racialized groups. A few days later, EPS withdrew the image’s release.

Okere told the committee the image did provide new clues in the case and investigators were following up.

“Let me be clear, however, the release of highly generalized computer-generated images also does some unintended harm, and that’s at the heart of the problem here,” Okere said. “The nature of this crime, the fact that this woman is racialized and marginalized, doesn’t make the generic photo impactful on our city’s black community.”

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Due to the criticism, Okere said the service was designed to create “a stronger consultation process to better understand the use of new technologies and the potential impact that could have.”

The service will update its ethics review process to ensure it adheres to a number of guidelines including, but not limited to, clear demonstration of public safety interest, that the actions are in line with the legal framework, there is clear evidence of the usefulness of the technology and its limitations before proceeding, EPS will periodically review and evaluate the use of these technologies.

Commissioners approved EPS’ motion to provide a draft proposal to a committee of Chiefs Community Council members, commissioners and others to “assess the use of current and future technology” and provide a report to the Police Council’s Standing IT Committee.

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Edmonton Police Chief Dale McPhee told reporters after the committee meeting that any use of new technology needs to be balanced with community input to address crime and the ability to help victims of crime.

“That’s what I love about coming together and building what actually looks like a straw dog and a mechanism for best practice to make sure we have this buffer going forward,” he said. We’re working on it. Are we going to post more generic images now? No.”

The committee also heard a presentation by Statistics Canada on the collection of race-based data.

StatsCan is developing guidelines for the collection of race-based data for use by police services, with the goal of a full rollout by 2024.

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Sean Tout, executive director of EPS Information Management and Intelligence, said the service will first leverage race-based data collection standards where people self-identify their race. EPS aims to have a new records management system in place by spring 2023 and train officials on data collection by the fall, he said.

Once ready to receive data, possibly in early 2024, the data will be reported to StatsCan.

Race-based data will help determine whether particular races are overrepresented, McPhee said.

“Furthermore, it allows us to more accurately reflect what we’re actually dealing with in the community,” he said. “That’s what the racialized minority community demands.”

The committee also moved to write a letter to the Alberta government advocating for the collection of race-based data.



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