Facial recognition issues to be studied by new National Sheriffs’ Association working group

Signs 5-year agreement with BI2 Technologies for biometric background check program
Facial recognition issues to be studied by new National Sheriffs’ Association working group

Continuing with its educational program for its members on facial recognition and associated issues it initiated several years ago, the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) has formally established a facial recognition working group “to study technological issues and appropriate guidelines for law enforcement,” the group announced.

Pinellas County, Florida Sheriff Bob Gualtieri will chair the group, which “will include law enforcement, industry representatives, government officials, and other relevant parties.”

“Far too often, myths are overwhelming facts on how facial recognition is used,” Gualtieri said. “Nevertheless, law enforcement needs to be confident and communities need to trust that what is being used is both legal and constitutional.”

“NSA has been involved in the use and the regulation of [facial recognition] for some time and it is important to more thoroughly understand the capabilities of the technology and to ensure that industry leaders and users have clearly defined and accepted practices and procedures,” the group stated.

NSA is one of the largest law enforcement professionals associations in the U.S. representing more than 3,000 elected Sheriffs across the nation and a total membership of more than 14,000, serving as an information resource for all law enforcement, as well as states and the federal government.

BI2 Technologies recently announced it inked a 5-year, exclusive national agreement with NSA to provide more than 3,000 Sheriffs across the country with its iris biometrics-based ACCESS Background Check Program, which the company says is “a first-of-its-kind initiative that will include a contract with the Hendry County Sheriff’s office to provide the equipment.

Under the agreement, BI2 Technologies said it will provide any participating sheriff “at no upfront cost to the sheriff or county with its NSA-endorsed and cutting-edge Inmate Recognition and Identification System, I.R.I.S,” which BI2 said, “uses the human iris to accurately identify a person.”

“I.R.I.S. is far more accurate than a fingerprint and results are provided within seconds,” the company said.

“This is truly the beginning of the first national background check solution which will provide convenient, local access to state and federal systems at sheriffs’ offices across the nation,” BI2 Technologies President and CEO Sean G. Mullin said. “We are particularly pleased that this program will also return funds to the local Sheriff’s Office to be used to address critical needs in their communities.”

“We are proud to have this opportunity to serve the nation’s sheriffs,” he added, saying, “It will make communities across the nation safer while providing better, more convenient services to millions of citizens who need to get a state and/or FBI certified background check done.”

Coinciding with this, the Volusia County, Florida Sheriff’s Office announced it recently paid $10,000 for six one-year licenses to begin using the controversial Clearview AI facial recognition technology following a 90-day free trial in January.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood told the Daytona Beach News-Journal Monday that his department is implementing appropriate safeguards to protect privacy.

“I’m very cognizant that when people here facial recognition some people it makes the hair on the back of their necks stand up,” Chitwood told the newspaper, emphasizing that “We are not running. We are not walking toward this technology. We are crawling toward it.”

The NSA has been working on facial recognition issues for several years, and beginning in 2017 received training from Roger Anthony Rodriguez, a recognized law enforcement facial recognition and imaging analyst expert who retired as New York Police Department officer after 20 years and is now Director of Public Safety Business Development at Vigilant Solutions.

While at NYPD, he was involved in the development of the NYPD Real Time Crime Center and its Facial Identification Section, which were considered by some as “benchmarks in law enforcement technology” that “paved the way for data collection, dissemination, and inter-agency collaboration. He spearheaded NYPD’s facial recognition efforts and the department’s first dedicated Facial Identification Section, one of whose detectives last August used facial recognition technology to quickly identify Larry Griffin II – a homeless West Virginia man – as the man who had caused a momentary terrorism panic by leaving a pair of rice cookers at the Fulton Street subway station.

As of April 2016, Rodriguez had already produced hundreds of facial recognition matches from uncontrolled probes leading to arrest, while the department’s facial recognition unit had conducted 8,500 facial recognition investigations with more than 3,000 possible matches and approximately 2,000 arrests.

The course addressed “some of the recent false narratives and assertions made on law enforcement uses of facial recognition technology” and “focus[ed] on alarmist claims circulating the web and … highlight[ed] conflicts found in these reports.” It also stressed, “the importance for every agency to establish a system of metrics and accountability to refute alleged misuse by public safety.” Rodriguez discussed the image intake and vetting process for facial recognition and recommended a best practice Facial Recognition Five-Step Investigative Workflow “that all agencies should utilize during any criminal investigation.”

The NSA’s new working group’s chair is hardly one for funny business, either. Labeled “the star cop in Florida Politics” by one state newspaper, Gualtieri is likely to take an aggressive but pragmatic position advocating the use of facial recognition by law enforcement in the face of growing sentiment against its use by law enforcement by cities and communities across the nation.

Gualtieri, who was voted Sheriff of the Year by the 3,000 members NSA, is not only a law enforcement officer, he is also a lawyer and politician who is serving as the 15th sheriff of Pinellas County. Previously, he was Chief Deputy and General Counsel to Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff Jim Coats. He is, however, considered a controversial Republican by immigrant and privacy rights advocates – he’s been an outspoken supporter of a ban on sanctuary cities.

“I do my job. That’s all I care about,” he’s been quoted as saying.

NSA in January also announced the establishment of an Unmanned Aircraft Systems working group “to create a template that governs law enforcement’s use of UAS.”

“Drones have become a fixture in law enforcement to support them in keeping their communities safe and sheriffs have been at the forefront of the issues and the regulations related to them. Sheriffs around the country are the leaders on this issue and will tackle future challenges and we are proud to have Sheriffs Wasylyshyn and Smith to lead the group,” said NSA Executive Director Jonathan Thompson.

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