St. Albert RCMP officers will be brushing up on their photography skills this summer as the local detachment plans to pilot a hate symbol monitoring program developed by the City of Edmonton.
The program, called "Lighthouse," entails officers taking pictures of graffiti, stickers, scribbles, and posters and uploading the photos to an app, where it's then digitally analyzed to identify hate symbols.
Speaking to St. Albert city council on March 7, RCMP officer in charge Insp. Ryan Comaniuk said the local detachment will be the first in Alberta to pilot the program.
“It aims to fight against hate in the community and further afield by using technology to track the proliferation of hate symbols in our communities,” Comaniuk said.
Although he was unavailable for an interview, Comaniuk said in an email that he thinks the program will aid Mounties' efforts to detect hate groups in the community.
“From a local aspect, this is just another tool for law enforcement to better detect if there are any hate groups or individuals active in the community,” he said.
“I like that this program promotes community participation in addressing a larger problem of graffiti, hate crime, vandalism, etc. and it gets everyone pulling on the same end of the rope.”
RCMP spokesperson Cst. M.J. Burroughs says a few hate symbols have been identified in the community in recent years, but it's been few and far between.
“St. Albert RCMP recognize crime reduction as a priority and feel the Lighthouse program will be another crime prevention tool that can be utilized within the community to identify hate groups or individuals associated to such ideologies,” Burroughs said.
“Everyone has a role to play in keeping our community safe and the Lighthouse program can assist law enforcement and citizens to work together in addressing such issues.”
The City of Edmonton developed the Lighthouse program internally and launched it earlier this year. Edmonton spokesperson Chrystal Coleman told The Gazette that over 20 images have been uploaded by city peace officers so far.
“We anticipate we’ll see these numbers increase as we train more officers over the next few months on how to use the application,” Coleman said.
On the digital side of Lighthouse, Coleman explained, the City of Edmonton worked with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an international anti-hate organization headquartered in New York City, by using the ADL's hate symbol database for symbol identification purposes.
“The ADL database contains both historical and recently emerged symbols, which provides valuable guidance and awareness for labelling images,” Coleman said.
Although the ADL's hate symbol database is one of the largest of its' kind, many Canadian-specific hate symbols and groups such as Soldiers of Odin (SOO), Diagolon, the various chapters of Active Club, and Crew 38, are not listed.
Coleman said the City of Edmonton is working to supplement the database by consulting local groups to include symbols seen exclusively or more commonly in Canada.
“We acknowledge that including hate symbols that may be relevant to Canada is important so we are currently collaborating with local community partners to expand the database and ensure its inclusivity,” she said.
“We are very excited to work with other organizations such as the St. Albert RCMP on the expansion of Lighthouse.”