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Student-led app to help solve crime in WA

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Innovation Central Perth and the WA Police Force are working together to develop an app that will make it easier to capture and record offenders’ identifying marks, such as tattoos, piercings and scars.

The team behind the idea – Curtin student Jason Luppnow, Associate Professors Amy Tian and Vidy Potdar, and WA Police Force’s Inspector Jodie Pearson – are confident the app will enable police officers to capture identifying marks quicker and without bias, helping them solve crime more efficiently.

“Sometimes the only line of enquiry we might have to solve a crime is a person’s tattoo or other identifying feature,” says Pearson.

Previously, the WA Police Force relied on manual methods for capturing offenders and suspects’ identifying marks, however this was not keeping pace with their transition to digital processes.

“We needed a quick and easy way to capture the marks of those who come into our custody, out in the field and in the custody suite,” says Pearson.

“Police officers are very busy with the practical side of policing and don’t have time to think of how to innovate the way we gather intelligence. That can mean we end up doing things the same way we always have — even though it may not be the most efficient method.”

Seeking a fresh perspective

Conscious of their lack of time and product design expertise, the WA Police Force reached out to Innovation Central Perth for guidance.

“I wanted someone young, dynamic and informed to consider the problem from a new perspective,” Pearson says.

“I’d heard of the success of Curtin’s Innovation Central’s internship program, so we put together a research project that would appeal to people’s desire to help the community and solve crime.”

Innovation Central Perth’s internship program connects Curtin students to industry partners, giving them an opportunity to use their knowledge to develop innovative solutions to real-world challenges with the support of an expert team. The chosen candidate was Curtin computer science student, Jason Luppnow.

After accepting the offer to work with the WA Police, Luppnow undertook extensive user research to gain a comprehensive understanding of the business problem.

“Jason sought feedback face-to-face from a wide range of police officers, including those in gang crimes and homicide, to find a solution that would be effective, convenient and readily adopted,” says Pearson.

Using the findings from this research, he developed a web-based app that enables police officers to quickly capture an offender’s unique markings and use a reverse image search to match them to existing data records and surveillance footage.

The app is on track to be validated and deployed across the WA Police Force, increasing their intelligence gathering capabilities and complementing other technologies, such as facial recognition and body worn cameras.

The innovative design has also gone on to be shortlisted in Business and Law category of the 2021 Curtinnovation Awards.

Curtin student Jason Luppnow demonstrates the app’s functionality.

An alternative path to success

Pearson is extremely pleased with the result of the project, yet she acknowledges some may see a student internship as an unconventional route for developing a new product.

“It was quite a big deal for the WA Police to embark on the internship process. You’re essentially relying on a student to help you solve crime,” she says.

However, Pearson assures the support she received throughout the process allayed any initial reservations.

“The students, professor and support team at Innovation Central were incredible, guiding me on best practice and providing examples of success from other jurisdictions and industries,” she says.

“They were able to show us the range of possibilities available. We would have never come up with the idea for the app if we had stayed within the limits of our working environment.

“I’m overflowing with ideas since working with the Innovation Central team. I want to work with more students to explore new ways to solve crime!”

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