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Virtual assistants in blue: The rise of the machines in policing

New technologies will revolutionize how we do our jobs

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This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.

The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it — creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.

By Marcelo Blanco

Michelle woke up early to get ready for work. She went through her morning routine and was finally prepared to head out; however, as she exited her home something appeared out of place. She noticed her vehicle was not in her driveway. She ran back into her house and dialed 9-1-1. A professional but friendly voice greeted her by saying, “Hi, you have reached your local police department. What is your emergency?”

Michelle frantically began sharing her story about her car being stolen. The dispatcher recognized Michelle was a bit frazzled and began coaching her on how to calm down, assuring her they’d do everything possible to find her vehicle. While asking Michelle the questions needed for the auto theft report, the dispatcher also accessed their automated license plate reader system (ALPR) and began searching for the vehicle.

In short order, the dispatcher identified the vehicle passing an ALPR camera, which meant the system could capture its time and a picture of the driver. The dispatcher described the suspect to Michelle, inquiring if she knew the person. Michelle did not recognize the suspect’s description and said she had not given anyone permission to take the car.

Fortunately, the ALPR picture of the suspect was crystal clear, which meant it could be processed through facial recognition. The facial recognition system found a match, confirming the suspect had been contacted several times in the city and had priors for theft, including auto theft. That information was forwarded to patrol officers to begin seeking the suspect.

After capturing all the information needed to complete the auto theft report, the dispatcher provided Michelle with her case number. While the dispatcher was speaking with Michelle, communicating with the officer in the field and checking the various systems to identify and locate the car-theft suspect, they took another call from a business owner reporting a robbery. This caller didn’t speak English; however, that did not slow down the dispatcher, who began to converse in the caller’s language. This was seamless, with perfect accuracy.

Most, if not all, police departments should be looking to hire the dispatcher just described. Such an individual would be a game-changer to any law enforcement agency. Interestingly, these dispatchers exist today. However, their capabilities are scattered among various virtual assistant (VA) platforms that could be condensed into the next generation of police dispatchers. No longer science fiction, a VA dispatcher could be right around the corner.

Ubiquitous VAs with AI

AI (artificial intelligence) and VAs exist all around us. In 2017, 60.5 million Americans used a virtual assistant at least once a month, and by 2024 it is expected that more than eight billion digital voice assistants will be used globally. [1] These statistics are consistent with the reality that most people in America and other industrialized countries already have some type of smartphone (powered by AI).

One cannot discuss the rise of VAs without mentioning Amazon’s Alexa, a shining beacon of VA ubiquity in contemporary consumer life. Designed to tackle a multitude of tasks, Alexa and her kindred virtual assistants have seamlessly integrated themselves into daily routines, handling everything from adjusting lights and setting up perfect movie nights to generating shopping lists based on user preferences and previous interactions. However, while Alexa showcases the current capabilities of VAs, platforms like ChatGPT are a game-changer for the next wave of VAs. [2] The sophisticated algorithms and learning mechanisms underpinning ChatGPT make it an ideal candidate for roles that demand a deeper level of understanding and adaptability, such as virtual dispatchers, investigators or report takers. [3]

With each succeeding generation, VAs progress in their ability to conduct tasks. In addition to the AI capabilities found in cell phones and wearable technology, most electronic devices today have some “smart” features or AI capabilities. While we embrace the enhancements AI brings to efficiency and problem-solving, there is a parallel need to consider the broader implications of its integration into society.

The 2003 movie “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” presented a future where artificially intelligent machines took over the world and sought to destroy humanity. The story prompted fears about what might happen if intelligent machines were created, but it wasn’t the first time this fear was exploited for entertainment. Plenty of other movies have evoked fear of AI in people, such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968 and the original “Terminator” in 1984. AI is not a concept waiting in the future; it is happening today. ChatGPT and others have both fascinated the public and created calls for AI regulation. [4]

Prominent figures in the field of AI contribute to the apprehension surrounding this technology by forecasting perils associated with its capabilities and lack of regulatory measures. [5] For example, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer emphasized the importance of carefully regulating AI technologies, saying, “If you go too fast, you can ruin things.” [6] In addition, Elon Musk expressed a range of concerns about AI. He emphasized the need for its proactive regulation, saying, “AI is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation,” and “I am not normally an advocate of regulation and oversight … but this is a case where you have a very serious danger to the public.” [7]

Artificial intelligence, particularly virtual assistants, is already deeply embedded in our daily lives, from smartphones to electronic devices, so while caution may be crucial, familiarity already exists. AI’s creation aims to enhance human life, reduce errors, save lives and enhance customer service, all of which would benefit law enforcement. However, as AI advances, it is imperative to consider corresponding safety measures and appropriate regulations to ensure its use and development meet the desired goals. For policing, its use foreshadows an era where officers are better protected, their work has a higher quality and the communities they serve are safer as a result.

VAs in law enforcement operations

There is an almost unlimited number of ways AI can elevate the quality of work in policing. For instance, VAs can have a significant impact in enhancing officers’ investigative abilities. They can literally serve as virtual partners in synthesizing leads and other information. “They are a partner that digs for leads by sorting, referencing and then analyzing data from all manner of public, private, cloud and social media sources,” wrote Police1 columnist Mike McHenry in 2021. [8] As was the case with the dispatching VA, the detective VA would be an invaluable resource at the police officer’s disposal.

“[Using] geography, time and circumstances, the DVA [digital voice assistant] could be programmed to hunt through sources including law enforcement data, public camera feeds and social media postings looking for relevant results,” McHenry wrote. [8] This is exactly what a police officer would have to do to gather information about a suspect and their whereabouts. Therefore, the officer would not have to waste time and resources by driving back to the station to access the department’s computer system and being out of the field for an extended period.

Motorola Solutions is testing a new virtual assistant feature in its police radios. This feature is currently capable of simple tasks like checking license plates and driver’s license information. [9] Consequently, it should offload significant work from dispatchers, who traditionally manage these tasks, answer calls and monitor the status of field personnel. This innovation will streamline police operations by automating routine data checks. Moreover, Motorola’s system includes real-time officer tracking, facilitating quick location and response in emergencies, a marked improvement over the previous, more time-consuming processes such as a grid search.

Besides assisting their human counterparts in the investigative process, a VA can become vital in completing police reports or gathering information. The technology allows officers to verbally dictate information, create incident reports and complete other tasks more efficiently while not having their situational awareness distracted. [10] Report management is a huge time-taker in any police organization. Reducing the amount of time an officer is bogged down taking reports equates to additional patrol time and safer communities.

If all of this sounds too good to be true, it is already happening in other professions. The healthcare industry, for example, is embracing this change as it deploys VAs to book appointments, share information and even recommend care based on symptoms. [11] VAs are also starting to collect data in social and psychological research, even being used to “survey individuals about their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.” [12] This ensures consistent care and offers a touchpoint that might otherwise be missed. Others reaping the benefits of VAs include the high-end clothing industry. [13] Clients get a seamless shopping experience as VAs offer insights on emerging fashion trends, recommend outfits based on historical choices, and provide other conveniences tailored to customer satisfaction. Just as we are seeing in mental health and high-end clothing, the use of VAs in law enforcement can herald a new era of enhanced efficiency and effectiveness, promising a safer and more responsive environment.

Evolving public safety dispatch: The VA journey begins

Westnet is currently offering a VA option to fire dispatching with its First-In system. [14] This new system signifies the beginning of this realization. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room for growth. The First-In system retains a discernibly “robotic” voice, creating an artificial feeling for the individual dispatching the call. This emphasizes the existing gap: the need for a system that not only efficiently accomplishes tasks but also resonates with a human touch. This is extremely important if we are going to achieve acceptance. This rudimentary system created by Westnet, while helpful in alleviating certain responsibilities, has a potentially bumpy road ahead if the robotic voice effect cannot be resolved. However, Siri, Alexa and other VA voices have overcome this hurdle.


We are already seeing the transformative impact of virtual assistants and artificial intelligence on public safety. The near-future narrative should prompt deliberation about next steps.

VAs promise to revolutionize various facets of policing. Motorola Solutions is at the forefront of this evolution, testing AI-enabled police radios that perform tasks like license plate checks. The potential of VAs extends to investigative assistance, report management and even serving as virtual partners in dispatching.

The rise of VAs and AI in policing is a pivotal development. As we embrace AI’s potential to improve policing, it is crucial to ensure these advances align with ethical standards and societal needs, fostering a future where technology serves as a force multiplier.

Questions to consider

  1. How do the capabilities of AI and VAs as outlined in the narrative transform law enforcement operations, and what are the potential challenges of integrating these technologies?
  2. What ethical considerations and privacy concerns arise from the use of technologies like ALPR systems and facial recognition in policing?
  3. In what ways might the adoption of AI-powered VAs alter the roles of human dispatchers and officers, and what new skills might they need?
  4. How could the introduction of AI and VAs in policing influence public trust and perceptions of law enforcement agencies?
  5. Considering the calls for AI regulation, what specific measures should be implemented to ensure responsible use of AI and VAs in law enforcement?


1. Lindner J. Must-know virtual assistants statistics [current data]. Gitnux. December 2023.

2. Kalla D, Smith N, Samaah F, Kuraku S. Study and analysis of Chat GPT and its impact on different fields of study. Int J Innov Sci Res Technol. December 2023.

3. Sharma A. The escalation of ChatGPT: how ChatGPT will exert influence on the legal profession? Jus Corpus. 2023.

4. Ray PP. ChatGPT: A comprehensive review on background, applications, key challenges, bias, ethics, limitations and future scope. Internet of Things and Cyber-Physical Systems. 2023.

5. Ramge T. Who’s afraid of AI? Fear and promise in the age of thinking machines. The Experiment. 2019.

6. Singh K. US Senate’s Schumer: AI regulations needed but should not be rushed. Reuters. September 2023.

7. Thomas A. Ten best Elon Musk quote about AI. Analytics India. February 2024.

8. McHenry M. ‘Hey, Siri. Who’s my suspect?’ Police1. January 2021.

9. Westrope A. New radio brings AI voice assistant to law enforcement. Government Technology. October 2019.

10. Jacobson N. How can voice assistant benefit law enforcement? CPI OpenFox. February 2023.

11. van Bussel MJP, et al. Analyzing the determinants to accept a virtual assistant and use cases among cancer patients: a mixed methods study. BMC Health Serv Res. July 2022.

12. Sprengholz P, Betsch C. Ok Google: Using virtual assistants for data collection in psychological and behavioral research. Behav Res Methods. September 2021.

About the author

Marcelo Blanco is chief of police in Upland, California. He has worked over 34 years in law enforcement and served in virtually every possible position available at the Upland Police Department. He started as a high school intern in his senior year at Upland High School riding his bike to the Upland police department. For any assistance, he can be reached at