Winning Legal Tech

Students’ automated police complaints app triumphs at Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational

Helen Metella - 22 July 2021

In April, Faculty of Law students won an international competition with a unique legal technology application that improves access to justice for people filing complaints about police services.

The team of second-year JD students Karyna Omelchenko, Prabhjot Punnia and Darren Wagner, and third-year student Denis Ram won the Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational, held virtually at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C.

Their guided interview complaints app uses plain language questions to determine whether legal grounds for complaints exist. It then generates a formal complaint letter citing the relevant statutes and will then submit it — anonymously if requested — to the chief of police, the police commission, the department of professional standards and the provincial minister of justice.

“Our research led us to incorporate various design elements such as easy navigation, human-like interaction, and plain language to ensure accessibility of the app and to prevent re-traumatization of the users,” says Omelchenko, who with Punnia created the coding for the app.

The lack of a consistent way to file complaints has been identified as a barrier to helping address systemic racism in the Calgary Police Service by anti-racism activists, municipal politicians, the provincial justice minister and police chiefs.

Designed with an open-source legal-automation tool called DocAssemble, the now-named Clear Justice app can be easily adapted by other police services in Alberta simply by changing the email addresses where the complaints are sent. Outside the province, the relevant statutes in those jurisdictions just need to be inserted into the code. Ram also sees potential for its use in corporate settings to improve complaint reporting of harassment or abuse.

With some funding from a $10,000 seed grant offered through the University of Alberta (via the Kule Institute for Advanced Study and the AI4Society Signature Area) and the Edmonton Police Service, plus another $45,000 the team received from the City of Calgary, the app is already entering final stages of development before potentially going online to replace Calgary’s current online police complaint process. Development will include translation into the most common languages spoken in Calgary as well as two Indigenous languages.