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Edmonton police working with tech company to employ autistic workers’ skills to review bodycam footage

As a kid, Matthew Lambregts always wanted to be a police officer. 

Now an adult, a new opportunity uniquely suited to the skills of autistic people — poring through hours of police body camera footage — has rekindled Lambregts’s dream. 

“This is not what I had in mind when I wanted to work for the police. But I like it,” said Lambregts at a news conference Tuesday announcing the new partnership between the Edmonton Police Service and Technology North, an Edmonton-based IT company that specializes in employing autistic people.

“It’s very hard for someone on the spectrum to articulate, explain themselves, or just be themselves,” Lambregts said. “Previous jobs I wouldn’t even mention it. Now it’s at the forefront.

“It’s good to make a difference, it’s good to be a part of something bigger.”

The province announced last year that body cameras would be mandatory for police officers.

Edmonton police has received more than 100 bodycams to date, and expects to have 280 deployed body-worn cameras by the end of the year, said Supt. Derek McIntyre, with the EPS information and analytics division.

The cameras will be feeding the police digital evidence management system significantly, McIntyre said, and much of the footage and audio will need to be redacted.

The process can be tedious, and involves meticulously reviewing hours of video and audio for anything that would pose privacy concerns, such as the licence plate number of a vehicle not involved in a traffic stop or children captured in a video, which would need to be blurred out.

The idea to employ autistic people in bodycam redaction came from Ling Huang, the owner of Technology North, who McIntyre calls a “pioneer” in the sector.

A man and a young man stand behind a microphone at a podium in front of a blue backdrop written Edmonton Police.
Ling Huang and his son Brian, who is on the autism spectrum, approached Edmonton police about doing its bodycam redaction work. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

“He is a pioneer in relation to what Technology North is doing for the neurodivergent sector and we’re thrilled to be part of it,” McIntyre said. “This is a heart project for many of us.” 

Huang’s son Brian is on the autism spectrum. Huang said his work began about 10 years ago, when Brian was 14, and he and his wife started wondering what Brian’s life would look like. 

Huang started developing robot coaching software, which is designed to help with well-being and workflow management for employees with autism. Brian is now a trainee in the bodycam footage program.

Bodycam redaction, like document digitization work the company has specialized in in the past, is suited to the team’s unique skills, including attention to detail and deep focus, Huang said. 

“We achieve nearly 100 per cent accuracy,” Huang said. 

‘Unique perspective’

Morine Rossi, programs manager at Autism Edmonton, was excited to hear about the partnership. 

“A lot of autistic individuals may have sensory sensitivities, they may have just a different way of communicating, or sometimes differing social expressions,” Rossi said. “So the great thing about autistic minds is that they are very different and they can look at things in quite a unique perspective. And I think that’s where this really fits well for the project that they’re working on.”

Three men work at computers.
Employees of Technology North train to redact police bodycam footage. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Katherine Burnham said employment through Technology North has been life changing for her son Tyler, who loves anything to do with video and has had a YouTube channel since he was young. 

“He’s 32 and this is his first ever paid job, which is amazing,” Burnham said. 

“He looks forward to going to work every day. He looks forward to every shift. He’s probably one of the first people to reply to the email saying what his shifts are going to be for that week.

“And then obviously the money at the end of the month is good as well because he gets to do things what he wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to do.”

For Delfina Lambregts, her son’s employment has proved that people with autism have great skills to offer.

“We have to get out-of-the-box, figure out what they have and go there and they can return it in spades,” she said.

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