Local cops use face recognition technology to fight crime

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. – San Diego law enforcement agencies have a new high-tech tool for crime fighting called facial recognition technology.

PIC[1] copyIt looks like your average tablet, but there is nothing average about software and what it does.

“You have to get to a really good shot of their face,” said Chula Vista police Officer Roman Granados. “You have to be accurate because it goes by the ears, eyes and chin.

And in a matter of seconds officers in the field can identify the bad guys or clear the good guys.

“Right now, it’s just for people who have been arrested before, people who were contacted by police and a photo was taken,” Granados explained.

The software was developed by the federal Department of Homeland Security. It’s called the Tactical Identification System, and it analyzes facial structure and then compares it to a statewide data base of mug shots.  An officer simply snaps the picture, hits save, and the search for a match begins.

“You’ll see a lot of people that look a lot like (the suspect),” officer Granados said. ” It’s not always the first person.”

The patrol officer still has to make the final call, matching the photo to the suspect.

Right now, police only have access to photos and a brief criminal history. While the technology is meant to identify the bad guys, it’s not foolproof, and that’s where officer judgment comes into play.  They want to make sure they have it right.

“When you take someone’s rights away like that, you have to make sure everything is documented and you have all the best information,” Granados said.

And now a process that used to take an officer off the street for the better part of day can be done in a matter of minutes right from the field.

“By the time I arrest them and bring them back to the police station, our jail has already gathered information on who this person is and allows us to speed up the process that much faster,” Granados explained.

If the person is found to be innocent of any wrongdoing, it’s up to the officer’s discretion whether or not to delete the photo, but it does not go into any sort of master database, which is one of many concerns of privacy rights advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Granados said the system has plenty of safeguards in place.

“Every time I put a query into a system, my name and agency is put into that query, and I am held accountable and responsible for all that information,” he said.

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