One Austinite said that after 30 minutes of answering questions, the bot wouldn’t let him move forward, so he had to call 311 anyway to report it.
AUSTIN, Texas – It has been a little over two months since the Austin Police launched a crime reporting service through IReportAustin.com, a new online system for reporting non-emergency crimes during an ongoing staffing shortage.
“It appears to be successful,” Lt. Sheldon Askew said.
Lt. Askew said that since that system changed, the time from submitting a report to being assigned a detective has dropped from more than 30 days to an average of three to five business days.
“So what we’re doing is getting more front-end information, which alleviates, in most cases, the need for the detective to contact the reporting party,” Askew said.
The AI chatbot is gaining more information by simply asking more questions.
“I found it really cumbersome and slow,” Aaron Von Flatern said.
Von Flatern said the questions could be streamlined after he attempted to file a report for a vehicle break-in at his Austin home, a crime he said happens frequently in his neighborhood.
“So 10 minutes go by, 20 minutes go by and I’ve reached the end of 30 minutes,” said Von Flatern. “I got to a question where I got stuck and couldn’t move forward.”
So, after 30 minutes of answering questions, Von Flater still had to call 311 to file his complaint. To show us areas of frustration, he walked us through another attempt.
“Has anything been damaged? No,” said Von Flatern. “Do you think this could be a hate crime? No.”
After a series of yes or no questions, we have seen some layoffs.
“‘Please choose the type of place that best describes…’ Now, I just said it, it was my home, and it’s giving me suggestions like abandoned, condemned, railroad terminal facility,” said Von Flatern.
After a few more questions, we came to the one that puzzled Aaron last time around.
“Although I’ve already said that I don’t know if anything was taken, it’s forcing me to choose a property category that best describes stolen property,” Von Flatern said.
Von Flater scrolled through the options and didn’t see one for unknown. Besides, he couldn’t skip the question.
“It makes you want to quit,” said Von Flatern. “Like, I don’t want to continue this relationship, but I can’t get out, and now I feel like a bad person if I stop.”
Flatern said it was difficult trying to salvage his progress. It took 20 minutes of answering questions for the bot to provide the passcode needed to save the report and come back.
“My question is, why isn’t that question on the side where I can always access it?” Von Flatern said. “I should be able to leave this report at any time and not wait 400 questions before I have the opportunity to leave and come back.”
Von Flatern said the crime wasn’t a big deal because it’s unclear if anything was stolen, but he wanted to do the right thing and alert the police in case it helps solve other cases.
It’s been two weeks, and Von Flatern said he still hasn’t heard from the APD, meaning he hasn’t been able to share video of the break-in.
“Maybe you have three cases in this neighborhood, you could start putting that evidence together and see if there was a pattern,” Von Flatern said. “Four in the morning, brand new machine working with two, maybe that sounds pretty organized, right? Like there’s a plan there that isn’t just a couple of kids messing around.”
Lt. Askew said he has heard this complaint before, but said it was a small number compared to the approximately 2,500 reports the system receives in a month. But he said they are constantly evaluating ways to improve the system.
“We’re going to look at a time period, the data set we’ve collected, the questions that are being asked, whether or not they apply, whether or not we need to change, but we ask more questions, fewer questions, and so on,” said the lieutenant. Askew.
APD does not have a timeline for when any changes might come. Von Flatern just hopes that the slew of idle questions don’t lead to a slew of unreported crimes.
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