"Chip," the city of Los Angeles’ new chatbot, has been off probation only since July — but, impressed by “his” performance, innovation officials have deputized him to deliver answers to potential police department recruits.

Chip, an acronym for City Hall Internet Personality, was launched in beta last May at the Business Assistance Virtual Network (BAVN), where he quickly took charge of helping the city’s more than 97,000 businesses understand how to find contracts, register for notifications and generally interact with the city.

The chatbot, which assisted more than 180 people during its first 24 hours, moved out of beta and went live in July — and attracted the notice of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Innovation Team. In Los Angeles, as it is elsewhere, police recruitment is time-intensive both for applicants — around 7,000 of whom are in its system at any given time — and for the City Hall staffers who field their questions.

Garcetti’s Innovation Team, in the Mayor’s Office of Budget and Innovation, is working with the Personnel Department, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and the Information Technology Agency, to help with LAPD hiring and recruiting.

Officer Chip, as the chatbot is known in his LAPD role, is a fast-track project that’s just one of 15 to 20 team initiatives in various stages.

His debut is intended to improve access to resources; reduce the thousands of monthly calls on basic process questions that candidates make to the Personnel Department’s Public Safety Division; and give the city insight into what candidates want to know.

“This is one of many things that we’re doing," said Amanda Daflos, director of the Mayor’s Innovation Team, "but the overarching goal is to make it easier for police recruits to learn about what it means to be a police officer. I think the power of Chip is that it can be used in lots of different places."

(One of the risks of using AI chatbots is that they can be prone to mimicking users' speech and usage patterns — not always in a good way.)  

For the city, Activating the chatbot on joinLAPD.com meant replacing Chip’s business-related responses with public safety data. Officials started with an initial list of around 1,000 questions, on topics ranging from salary to drug tests to boot camp, but that number has more than doubled in the weeks after its launch.

Questions for Officer Chip are visible on the back end, and being able to review them has helped the bot become more intelligent, and educated officials about what residents need to know from them.

To date, the chatbot is averaging 35 to 40 chat sessions per day, a number Daflos said is highly encouraging considering officials haven’t advertised the technology.

“It’s telling us that, without even marketing or telling people, this is a thing that there’s a lot of interest in,” Daflos said.

These interactions are believed to last around two minutes each, meaning Officer Chip is saving the city roughly 70 to 80 minutes of call time a day.

The Chip chatbot was designed by two city developers with training from Microsoft and access to its Cortana platform and Azure bot framework, during a three-day period last year. Its cost, officials said last year, has been unremarkable. Daflos said Chip’s creation is a great example of staff being able to quickly address residents’ needs.