Open Data for Public Safety

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 3:13 p.m. July 20, 2016
Updated: 3:54 p.m. July 20, 2016

The public is being challenged to help make the city safer through interpreting police data.

A man in TPS uniform beside two women
Chief Mark Saunders with Access Now founder Maayan Ziv and member Leah Davidson

The  DMZ Open Data for Change competition was announced by Chief Mark Saunders at Ryerson University on July 19. The DMZ is a business incubator for tech start-ups.

Service members will work with the DMZ to run an Open Data challenge to help solve a public safety issue, whether through data analysis or creation of applications, to allow the public better access to information or submission of information. Details for the Challenge will be announced later.

“This competition is an innovative way for us to develop and maintain a leading-edge open-data strategy,” Saunders said. “The competition will recognize solutions most able to contribute to increased public safety in Toronto.”

It’s the first time a police service has partnered with the DMZ in this way.

“I can tell you that, 20 years ago, there’s no way that a Chief of Police would have been up here saying exactly this,” said Saunders. “Thinking outside the box today is so important and that is why having this partnership becomes so critical. We are dealing with some of the brightest of the brightest. Keeping communities safe is not just about enforcement. It‘s about so much more and that’s why we need strong partnerships.”

The Chief said the Service is committed to sharing data with the public. The Transformational Task Force Interim Report, The Way Forward, recommends the creation of a public-safety data portal to encourage the creation and use of open data for public safety in Toronto.

“…So we are moving forward and we know you play an equal role and equal partnership in keeping this city one of the best cities in the world. I look forward to the amazing talents and skills that you will bring to the table because your brilliance will help us in keeping this city safe.”

Ian Williams, the TPS  Business Intelligence & Analytics manager, said the collaboration between the Service and Ryerson allows for innovative experiential learning.

“Through a series of hands-on projects, these students – who are very technically savvy and very sharp – are able to put their skills to use in the workplace and to develop skills and enhance their abilities through delivering presentations through working on real business problems and through engaging technology,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are preparing real business products that help solve day-to-day challenges. These students then take these skills and they can immediately transfer them into the workplace.

“…In light of a lot of the innovation that we have seen through this collaboration, the open-data challenge will be ground-breaking for both organizations, I believe. It will allow us to move ahead and stay cutting-edge.”

TPS and Ryerson have had an ongoing collaboration for the last decade.

As part of its curriculum, Ryerson’s geography department students engage in practical consulting projects and internships.

"Their entire course and grades are based on their delivery of a project to an organization and Toronto Police has been involved in that as a client since 2005,” said Williams, who graduated from the university’s Geographic Analysis and Master’s of Spatial Analysis programs, and is now a professor at Ryerson as well. “Subsequently the Master’s program does the exact same thing. Interns are required, as part of their curriculum, to do a student placement and Toronto Police has a student each year for a full semester.”

Ryerson University interim provost and vice president academic Dr. Christopher Evans welcomed the new collaboration.

“We at Ryerson are committed to our partners within the GTA, nationally and cities as far away as China, to develop new approaches to issues that challenge our communities and to implement solutions that enrich the fabric of society and improve the quality of life for everyone,” he said. “We are pleased to partner with the Toronto Police Service on this new and important initiative for our community.”

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