Local deputies using facial recognition software to fight crime


Facial recognition software is going far beyond social media, as it becomes a more popular tool in law enforcement.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has been using the technology for nearly a year, deputies said Thursday.

The Gresham Police Department told FOX 12 it just purchased facial recognition software last week, but haven’t yet implemented it.

In Washington County, the software is available to all deputies and used daily, according to agency spokesman Jeff Talbot.

“It’s exciting,” Talbot said. “It makes us quicker, smarter and fiscally responsible to solving crimes, and it’s working.”

Deputies can upload a photograph into a special program that then compares the images to a database of roughly 300,000 photos from the department’s jail booking mug shots.

Deputies use the software for a variety of situations: to possibly identify suspects in surveillance images or videos, to take their own photos of stopped suspects who refuse to offer their names, or to identify people from social media photos.

“We use information that is publicly available – either by a business, or on the internet, or a photo we take on our own out in the field,” Talbot said.

The program was developed by the agency’s Sr. Information Systems Analyst, Chris Adzima, who said he was searching for a faster solution to the usual bulletins and emails sent out to various deputies and agencies, in hopes of identifying suspects.

“I wanted to try to solve that problem – get us to ID these people quicker – the quicker you get to the ID, the quicker you can get to possibly solving the situation,” Adzima said.

He ended up choosing a readily available Amazon product called Rekognition, and tweaking it to fit the department’s need. Adzima said he wrote a code so new jail booking photos are added automatically.

The sheriff’s office pays a per-usage fee, and typically spends between $6-$8 a month on the program, according to Adzima.

“Nobody is currently doing it the same way as us,” Adzima said. “I’ve been putting feelers out to try and get other people to use it so we can possibly share booking information.”

In December, Adzima was awarded the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association’s Distinguished Service Award for his work.

But not every match is perfect. The sheriff’s office said testing of the program revealed it was about 75 percent accurate.

“In the other cases it didn’t find somebody, or I wasn’t able to determine this was somebody who had ever been in the jail,” Adzima said.

And there are privacy concerns too, said the Oregon ACLU.

“Facial recognition technology enables the unprecedented mass surveillance of people without their knowledge or consent,” said spokeswoman Sarah Armstrong in a statement to FOX 12. “These often-biased systems disproportionately harm residents of color and immigrants. The sheriff’s deployment of this technology raises profound privacy and free speech concerns.”

Talbot said the sheriff’s office is still finalizing new policies dictating how deputies can use the software. He said, currently, deputies must either get a person’s consent to search an image, or that person must be suspected of a crime.

“It’s important to note that these booking photos are 100 percent public record,” Talbot said. “We don’t use DMV photos. We don’t retain any of the photos that we use to match against our jail system.”

“There’s always going to a be a balance of keeping the community safe and, fighting crime and protecting people’s personal rights, and we’re aware of that,” Talbot added.

Gresham Police told FOX 12 they don’t yet have a timeline for when they’ll start using facial recognition software. A department spokesman said they’ll first have to develop usage policies.

A Portland Police spokesman said the bureau does not use any facial recognition programs.

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