Alexa could be our next crime fighter

A UK police force is exploring ways to let residents report crimes on their Amazon Echo speakers.

This Echo, featuring a woodgrain shell, could help you report a crime.
Ry Crist/CNET

Move over, McGruff. There's a new crime fighter in town and her name is Alexa -- assuming a UK police force gets its way, that is. 

Police in Lancashire, England, are exploring ways to use Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers to send out crime bulletins to local citizens, alert them to wanted suspects in the area and -- most intriguingly -- let victims and witnesses report crimes directly to the police. 

"If we can reduce demand into our call centers via the use of voice recognition or voice-enabled technology and actually give the community the information they need without them needing to ring into police, then that's massive," Rob Flanagan, the Lancashire force's innovation lead, said at a College of Policing conference, according to a report from TechSpot

This isn't the first time law enforcement has looked at Alexa's crime-fighting capabilities. 

Police in Bentonville, Arkansas, suspected James Bates in the death of his friend Victor Collins, who was found floating in Bates' hot tub in November 2015. Data from Bates' smart utility meter showed that someone had used 140 gallons of water between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. To investigators, that indicated the patio had been hosed down before they arrived. Records from Bates' mobile phone suggested he had made phone calls after he'd said he'd gone to bed.

But police also wanted to hear audio from Bates' always-listening Echo, which streams audio to the cloud, including a fraction of a second before hearing someone say "Alexa." Amazon initially objected to the request for data, citing the First Amendment, but handed it over when Bates said he had nothing to hide.

A judge dismissed the murder charge two months ago after prosecutors said evidence supported more than one reasonable explanation.