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British police deploy live facial recognition, license plate recognition to make 11 arrests


British police operating in London and the northwest of England recently used live facial recognition (LFR), operator initiated facial recognition and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR or license plate recognition, LPR, in North America). The operations, a week apart, resulted in three arrests in London via LFR (despite four matches) and algorithm testing and eight arrests in the northwest where the emphasis was on identifying vehicles.

London live facial recognition

On 7 July, London’s Metropolitan Police Service (the Met) set up their live facial recognition unit at Oxford Circus in the borough of Westminster for the fourth time. The spot is busy with pedestrians all day given its location in a principle shopping area and having one of the busiest underground stations.

According to the Met’s reporting, the aim once again was “Targeting violent and other serious crime, including violence, gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation and helping protect the vulnerable” and “Locating those wanted by the courts and subject to an outstanding warrant for their arrest.”

With a smaller watchlist than the last outing (28 January 2022), 6,699 compared to 9,756, four true alerts were generated from just four alerts, a significant improvement on previous operations. The police made three engagements with the four people detected, leading to three arrests.

Computer Weekly reports that the Met told them that the live facial recognition operators and engagement officers were unable to locate the fourth biometrically matched individual in the crowd.

It would appear that crowds are what the Met wants, given the choice of location. It has previously set up in Leicester Square nearby and at a busy shopping center in Stratford in east London. On the 7 July operation, police processed the biometrics of an estimated 15,600 passers-by, up considerably on the more specific figure of 12,120 in January.

The three arrested included a 28-year-old man wanted on a warrant for an assault on an emergency worker, according to the Met’s incident report. The other two arrests were drugs-related, covering intent to supply and failures to attend court. All three were brought before courts the following day.

The reports states: “We also undertook testing of our LFR algorithms with the National Physical Laboratory alongside the deployment. This will help us understand more about its accuracy, and any bias shown when deployed in a realistic operational policing environment. It will help inform how we continue to use facial technology legally and fairly.”

The Met is currently in “special measures” after a series of scandals and failures to tackle racism and misogyny, which forced its chief out of the role in February 2022.

Operation Crossbow: Manchester and Cheshire use LPR, biometrics

A week later, on 12 July, the neighboring forces of the Cheshire Constabulary and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) collaborated to tackle what they call “cross-border” crime. This is generally the issue of criminals heading from the large city of Manchester into the wealthy, rural county of Cheshire to commit crimes.

In a significant operation (more than 200 officers were briefed in an Ikea carpark), ANPR was used to monitor vehicles crossing between the counties, states the Cheshire Constabulary report.

A stop check was made on any vehicle linked either to criminal activity or operating on the roads illegally. Cheshire also used Operator Initiated Facial Recognition (OIFR) for the first time after implementing the technology a month earlier along with Retrospective Facial Recognition for searching footage and photos, both approaches linking to the same databases.

OIFR is used when officers believe an individual has either provided false details or cannot provide identification. (There is no requirement to carry ID in the UK or even a driver’s license while driving.)

NEC NeoFace is the software used by Cheshire Police as stated on the Force’s website.

Eight arrests were made – five in Cheshire, three in Manchester although in the accompanying video, GMP Chief Superintendent Mark Dexter says eight were made in Manchester that morning alone and he hoped for more in the afternoon, apparently in Cheshire.

A dozen vehicles were seized and 50 wraps of suspected crack cocaine and heroin recovered.

“We are relentless in our pursuit to disrupt criminal activity especially on and around our borders – we will use all the resources available to us to make it even more difficult for those intent on crossing the border to commit crime,” comments Cheshire Constabulary Superintendent Sarah Heath.

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