Putting a name to a face

You've arrested someone for disorderly conduct, but he has no identification on his person. How do you know if he has a medical condition impacting his behavior, if he's wanted elsewhere or if he has a history of assaulting police?

McNeil agrees. "The facial recognition applications drawing the most interest from law enforcement today include use during booking, jail intake and release, watch list comparisons of both photo and video, and as a witness identification tool."

He says the advantages of using facial recognition systems include:

  • Extensive government databases of facial images, including mugshots, driver licenses or passports.
  • Improved quality with inexpensive and commercial-off-the-shelf facial and video capture technology.
  • Ability to covertly capture visible facial images, unlike fingerprints and DNA.
  • Facial evidence is often available at crime scenes, such as video footage and witnesses.
  • Facial image processing does not require complex and expensive laboratory processing as do other biometrics such as DNA.

According to Forrester, in the metro Atlanta, Georgia, area, Cobb, Douglas and Cherokee counties have installed the ALIVE Tech 3D system at their jails for identity management. "This is important because so many criminals use an alias," he says. "One county found that 56 percent of arrestees have an alias, and some have up to 15."

These false names may clog up the system, but once the person's face is entered in the database and is subsequently arrested, the system will alert the officer that the suspect in question is already enrolled. "It virtually eliminated the criminal's ability to use an alias if he was arrested before and has an image in the system," Forrester points out.

The systems help after booking, too. "For example, at the Adult Detention Facility in Cobb County, our 3D facial recognition system creates a biometric template of every inmate booked into the facility," he says. "Upon release, the system uses that template to verify the correct inmate is being released. The county now has more than 100,000 inmates enrolled and has not had an erroneous release since the system was installed in April 2004, with more than 350,000 data transactions."

Forrester says this is important because every year, thousands of inmates are mistakenly released, due to the many aliases and ability to force another inmate to trade identification items. Later, the other inmate due for release points out the problem — and the wrongly released person has already fled the area. "The cost of recapturing the inmate would probably pay for a facial recognition system," he notes.

Atick says facial recognition helps the officer in the field, and the Pinellas County (Florida) Sheriff's Department is already using it for jail management booking and visitor ID.

"The sheriff's department has issued a wireless camera to deputies in patrol cars," Atick explains. "When they stop someone without identification, they can take a picture of the driver and place the camera in a docking station within the patrol car."

"With the push of a button, the image is sent to a central computer. In a few minutes the deputy is presented with the closest matches to the subject, in a gallery and rank order format. It's a great ID tool."

According to Atick, in the future, the deputy could receive information such as wants or warrants on the suspect, as well as the person's criminal history, with this method of identification.

Possible drawbacks

While facial recognition systems seem to have significant potential in law enforcement, the suppliers acknowledged some drawbacks. Most relate to overconfident results.

"One drawback is counting 100 percent on the face recognition algorithm to verify or find a match, and the results were actually incorrect," Schuepp says. "Facial recognition is not conclusive evidence such as DNA; however, it can be as accurate as fingerprint or iris recognition."

Schuepp says to think of facial recognition as a filter. Another type of check is then required to be conclusive. "At the border crossing, for example, facial recognition can be used to provide an alert if a face is found that has a high score match to a person on the watch list," Schuepp explains. "That person would require additional processing and other checks to be completely sure with whom you're dealing."

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