North Texas law enforcement facial recognition use varies widely by agency

More than half a dozen law enforcement agencies in North Texas are using facial recognition, with little public awareness in some cases, CBS 11 News reports.

The technology has been used recently by Plano Police to identify a shoplifting suspect, and by Arlington Police to identify a wanted felon at a local motel.

“It’s not perfect, but it does work,” says Irving Police Department Senior Detective Kevin Burkett, who is in charge of the department’s facial biometric system. He says the technology has helped to solve dozens of cases, including a murder. Irving Police use the service to return a list of 200 potential matches, along with confidence scores. Burkett then screens the results before passing leads on to investigators.

The database used by Irving Police consists of mugshots from the local prison, but the department is considering expanding its database with images collected in the same way by neighboring departments. The Texas Department of Public Safety, in contrast, uses a facial recognition database made up of 24 million driver’s license photos.

“Many people who think they have never been in contact with law enforcement or that law enforcement would not have their information are part of this flip book of people,” according to Dallas-based American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Attorney Kali Cohn.

Another difference between agencies is in policy on use, and CBS notes that Texas law on police use of facial recognition is vague. The Irving Police Department has a detailed written policy, and requirements of reasonable suspicion or consent to use the technology. Other local departments have no policy at all.

Debate over the use of facial recognition by law enforcement has intensified as research has shown signs of bias and accuracy issues.

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