When non-emergency 911 calls started to overwhelm its officers, Peel Regional Police took action. The third largest municipal police service in Canada implemented a community safety and well-being plan called Our Way Forward to quickly get citizens the community services help they desperately need while reducing the policing burden on the Peel Region in Ontario, Canada.
“More than 80% of the 911 calls we attend are non-criminal in nature,” said Tony Ventura, director of IT Services with the Peel Police. “They're due to either mental health and addiction, food insecurity, housing insecurity or any of these other socioeconomic issues.”
The Our Way Forward program focuses on four areas where civilian specialists can typically help more than police:
- Family violence
- Mental health
- Systemic discrimination
It addresses the many less-than-urgent events—for example, lost pets, noisy neighbors, power outages and traffic jams—reported via 911 every year. These are the calls that put police as first responders at the scene of numerous incidents that don’t require their presence or authority.
Protecting Rights & Well-Being Via Service Excellence & Community Engagement
The second largest municipal police service in Ontario after the Toronto Police Service, the Peel Police employs almost 2,200 police officers and more than 900 civilian employees who serve nearly 1.5 million residents. Peel Police also serves the Pearson International Airport which saw an estimated 12.7 million people pass through in 2021.
Its new program required a technological overhaul of the legacy 911 systems in use. “We were stuck with an older implementation and legacy configurations that just wouldn't move us forward,” said Marco Novielli, supervisor, systems and information security for Peel Police. “It was critical that we adopted modern mobile, cloud technologies.”
According to Peel Police Deputy Chief, Anthony Odoardi, “We set a strategic roadmap on how to get there, how to achieve our goal of community safety and well-being, ultimately, using technology and innovation.” Moving to the cloud was almost a forgone conclusion.
“The goal is to deliver (these capabilities) in a way that's as transparent as possible and as quick to access as possible, so we can scale up very quickly and deliver solutions,” said Novielli.
Some of the smallest initiatives within the larger Our Way Forward program have turned into the biggest wins. For example, the Peel Police today deploy an app that police officers can use to look up where they can send food-insecure people to receive a hot meal. The app will also find area shelters with capacity where they can route homeless people.
“The app gives you the address, the hours and even GPS coordinates,” said Ventura. “We want to try to decriminalize and help people who are in crisis.”
Safeguarding Personal Information
Cybersecurity was top of mind as the program was designed. Given the sensitive nature of the personal data flowing into and out of the Our Way Forward systems, Peel Police needed to ensure that all threats—both internal and external—would be immediately detected and mitigated. To do this, it deployed VMware Carbon Black technology, and today Carbon Black is a key part of the Peel Police’s VMware environment.
The solution enables the police service to lock down new and legacy systems against unwanted changes, streamline compliance processes and provide protection for its now-cloud-based environment. What that means is Peel Police took the inventory of all the legitimate files that exist on each machine and granted them appropriate permissions. Any viruses, external threats or unapproved software script without such permission will be blocked by Carbon Black.
“That gives us a very high level of assurance that nothing that is running on those servers hasn’t been explicitly allowed,” said Ventura, adding that the police service has also expanded Carbon Black to all endpoints. Now the Peel Police has sufficient transparency to see when a security incident has made it to “the last line of defense.”
“It shows us all the information in context—in terms of what files were allowed to execute and what files were blocked,” said Novielli, making it invaluable to prevent detected threats from becoming actual breaches.
Widening the Human Touch
Initiatives such as Our Way Forward use technology to help reduce dependence on police for every 911 call.
“We never want tech to replace the human interactions. Instead, it’s all about using technology to have more authentic interactions with the community. This is what I strive for in our IT department, to have everyone work for that common goal,” he added.
With VMware multi-cloud and VMware Carbon Black solutions, Peel Police’s goal is becoming reality.