Facial recognition to aid police in Portland, Maine

August 14, 2012 - 

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Maine has implemented facial recognition technology to check on a person’s identity, to determine whether he or she has been to county jail.

The county purchased a $35,000 facial recognition system from Dynamic Imaging System. The systems works by completely mapping a person’s face. It determines the size of the eyes, their distance from each other and proximity to the nose. The system disregards features that are prone to change including facial hair, glasses, and hair color. The system also disregards race and gender.

Photos of suspect taken by deputies will be matched with inmate photos stored in a database.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association noted that the tool could be a welcome addition for other police agencies. He said any tool that helps police officers identify suspects is good.

The technology draws upon the 10,000 bookings made a year in the county jail. Through the technology even a picture several years old can yield a match.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce said: “My vision, in the long run, is to bring on the agencies in Cumberland County to allow them to do their own searching through our database once we work out the kinks.”

One of kinks is that the program requires high-quality, clean image to yield good results, which many surveillance videos do not generate. When the county tested the program, several matches also included matches from both genders and multiple races. Additional parameters will need to be added to the system to improve search results.

Schwartz said the tool must be used judiciously and that officers have to be sure in making decisions based solely on a photo. Unlike its fingerprint counterpart, facial recognition technology poses civil-liberty concerns because anyone can take a picture from a distance without the person’s permission.

Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said: “This technology is still in its infancy and at the current point it’s notoriously unreliable. As a result, the ACLU has objected to the use and expanded use of facial recognition technology in the public sphere.”

Facial recognition technology, added to other modalities such as fingerprint recognition, can be very helpful but safeguards often need to be established to prevent abuse.

Do you think once facial recognition matures as a technology, it will reach the same status as fingerprint scanning for law enforcement agencies?

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About T'ash Spenser

T’ash Spencer writes full time for BiometricUpdate.com. She has 15 years experience in the field of regional planning and earned her Master’s of Science in Regional Development Planning and Management from the University of Dortmund, Germany. Follow her @tashspencer1.