Anaheim officials have given approval to the police department to purchase facial recognition software that aids them in identifying criminal suspects.
The Anaheim Police Department already has been using the software as part of an 18-month trial with maker Veritone, a Costa Mesa-based company. Last week’s unanimous approval by the City Council allows for the department to buy a one-year $35,000 subscription that will run through April 30, 2021, according to city documents.
So far the software has helped solve more than 150 cases, police Sgt. Shane Carringer said. It’s also quicker than manually comparing suspects’ images with booking photos in the department’s database.
While those efforts and manpower typically would be prioritized for egregious crimes like murders or rapes, the software helps boost investigations for crimes like property thefts, which may not have incited as many man hours, police said.
“What this does is makes it possible for us to investigate crimes that we might not have been able to investigate,” Carringer said. “If all we have is surveillance … it allows us to check those images of those suspects and compare it with our database of booking photos.”
Two civilians within the department — an investigator with the gang suppression detail and an office specialist for the homicide unit — were trained in using the software, Carringer said. They input pictures, surveillance footage and even forensic drawings with faces through the software program IDentify, powered by Veritone’s aiWARE artificial intelligence operating system, then forward any possible matches to investigators.
“The detective still has to verify if it is the subject and that they committed the crime,” Carringer said.
In the same way, the information will be used to clear individuals of any involvement in crimes, police said.
Anaheim police have also helped other agencies solve cases. In one from a couple of years ago, Arcadia police was looking for a man suspected of sexual assault and released a sketch. Anaheim police uploaded the sketch to the software to search their booking photo database and found potential matches. Arcadia police soon made an arrest.
Veritone did not immediately respond to messages so it was unknown how many law enforcement agencies use the software.
On its website, Veritone describes how the software filters results by factors such gender, age, height, hair color and ethnicity.
Police acknowledge that there are critics of facial recognition technology who may view it as an invasion of privacy, not unlike those directed at body cameras and license plate readers. In October 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning the state’s law enforcement agencies from using face recognition technology on body cameras.
The cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco have also barred police from using facial recognition technology, according to a report by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Carringer says the Anaheim department’s use of the software is in a narrow scope.
“This doesn’t use people’s DMV photos or anything that exists in the public domain,” he said. “Our database is of those who have been arrested and booked. This is just another investigative tool for us.”
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