Hacking TPS

Technology hackers spent a weekend reinventing how the public can share information with the City and Toronto Police Service (TPS).

The three-day Toronto Police Service Hackathon on Community Safety programs that took place at Ryerson University’s DMZ startup incubator resulted in a group, 51.5 Jumpstreet, claiming a $10,000 prize and a chance to continue developing their application with TPS and DMZ mentors.

Participants were tasked with developing a technology-based product that empowers the community to solve community problems, using their cell phones, while enhancing real-time data and information-sharing about what’s happening in their neighbourhoods.

The technology is expected to improve community intelligence related to community complaints.

51.5 Jumpstreet’s team is made up of Jane Illarionova, Akash Shetty, Manik Chaudhery and Kevin Dryden. They put all their efforts into developing an application and will now have the opportunity to move it forward.

Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon said 51.5 Jumpstreet and the runner-up, Team Nova, will be invited to police headquarters at a date to be announced to make presentations to the Toronto Police Services Board.

A group of people, holding oversized cheque
Mayor John Tory joined Service members in recognizing 515 Jumpstreet as the hackathon winners Photo: Handout

Over 150 developers, designers, and innovators, comprising university students, a high school team and tech start-ups, spent 48 straight hours working to create an application.

“The weekend was a huge success,” explained Deputy Coxon. “We wanted to re-imagine how to intake and deal with community complaints and we wanted to leverage partnerships to do that so it is not always the police getting complaints alone and then triaging them in a way where we are the ones taking them on and trying to deal with them. We are extremely happy with the application that’s been designed for us to receive community complaints, but it will then go to the city, our different partners and out into the community in real time so that people can see what issues are happening in the community and they can actually contribute to solutions in real time.”

The winning team created a prototype application for their presentation to the panel of judges.

“They used natural language programming to be able to identify very quickly what the issue is, to moderate the forum, to create leaderboards that will tell you whether or not the complaint would score higher or lower and who needs to deal with it as in 2-1-1, 3-1-1 or the police.”

Illarionova, a third-year University of Toronto computer engineering student who describes herself as a ‘Hack-A-Thon junkie,’ relished the opportunity to help develop an application for Canada’s largest municipal police service.

“This opportunity was exciting because it’s an untapped resource per se for innovation,” she said. “It’s about bringing new technologies that will have a social impact on existing problems and our goal was to facilitate that community engagement through an open platform that would kind of take care of people’s privacy as well as their ability to interact with others around them.”

Three people looking at a laptop
DMZ Executive Director Abdullah Snobar, Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon and Chief Mark Saunders Photo: Handout

Ian Williams, the TPS business intelligence and analytics manager, promised there will be more opportunities for some of the participants to collaborate with the Service on other technological endeavours.

“We have identified a few teams to work with, one of them being the winning team that will enter a boot camp that will take their idea and actually turn it into a product in the next six weeks,” he said. “When we see them again, they will have something tangible for us.”

Sen Sachi, the DMZ director of accelerated programs, said working with TPS was “an awesome experience.”

“Collaborating with a public service entity, we got to see how progressive they are thinking about how to solve their problems,” he added.

Most of the participants had a minimum three hours’ sleep during the 48-hour Hackathon.

“The adrenaline that comes with building a product makes Hack-A-Thons so exciting that you hardly think about sleep,” said Chaudhery, who is a fourth-year U of T engineering student. “You have no idea of what you are working on until you are presented with the problem statement.”

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