Augmented Reality Gives Police the Edge Against Gangs

In an effort to improve police response to critical situations like gang violence and shootings, researchers at Sweden’s Umeå University are developing artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed-reality technology for future policing.

The project, a collaboration between Umeå’s Department of Computing Science, the university’s Police Education Unit, the tech firm Comet Global Innovation, and the Mossos d’Esquadra police force in Barcelona, aims to provide police officers with enhanced situational awareness through “responsibly designed AI,” according to Juan Carlos Nieves Sanchez, associate professor and research leader in computing science at Umeå.

“There are numerous benefits of AI, but there are also risks,” said Dr. Sanchez. “In this project, we aim to facilitate and protect the police in their work while also protecting human rights.”

Recent events like the mass shooting in the U.S., the 2017 Stockholm truck attack, and surging gang violence have shown the difficulties faced by police officers in critical situations, Dr. Sanchez explained. New technologies like AI and mixed reality could give officers better real-time understanding of unfolding crises.

“Through advanced glasses, you see not only the situation you are in but also other information and data,” he said. The glasses could integrate information from sources like command centers, drones, and social media into a visual overlay displayed to the officer.

Dr. Sanchez stressed the need for “responsible AI solutions” that avoid potential downsides of the technology. “We want to ensure that the new technology is used in the right way so that it does not harm society and people,” he said, noting his team is following EU discussions on AI regulation.

Collaborator Jonas Hansson, a police education lecturer at Umeå and a former officer himself, echoed the desire to provide police with advanced support “to quickly create an understanding of a situation to act in a legally secure way.”

Getting user perspectives from officers in the field will be crucial, Hansson said. “The challenge is to get them to analyse their needs and at the same time see new possibilities for problems they may not be fully aware of. What is important is that we avoid the negative effects that technology can bring.”

For Dr. Sanchez, the police education partnership reflects Umeå’s strength in AI research and its potential to help curb rising crime rates. “We are hopeful that the strong AI research at Umeå University can contribute to reversing the negative social development in terms of crime that we have seen in Sweden in recent years,” he said.

The university collaboration on AI policing solutions is in its early stages but represents a growing focus on real-world applications for artificial intelligence. While promising improved police situational awareness, the researchers emphasize responsible design to avoid misuse of such powerful technologies. Their ability to balance public safety and civil liberties may prove vital as AI moves from the lab to the streets.

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