- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2001

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — Virginia Beach is seeking a federal grant to become the nation's second city, after Tampa, Fla., to use facial recognition software to help police snare criminals and find runaways.
The city has used closed-circuit TV cameras to watch the oceanfront since 1993, largely to check traffic and observe crowds. Under the new system, the 10 cameras would feed images of people strolling the oceanfront to police station monitors, where the software would sort faces against a database of mug shots, said police Capt. Gregory G. Mullen.
If the computer spits out a match, an officer at the station would radio an officer on the street for further action.
"A match will not give officers probable cause to arrest," Capt. Mullen said, "only enough to stop and question them."
The database includes about 2,500 outstanding felony warrants as well as pictures of runaways and missing people, Capt. Mullen said.
The software works by creating a "map" of the face and identifying 80 distinctive points, such as the distance between facial features. To achieve a match, 14 of those points must align with a database picture, often a mug shot, Capt. Mullen said.
By comparison, fingerprints require 11 points to match the whorls and ridges that make up each person's unique print.
In laboratory tests, under ideal lighting, the software had a 99.3 percent accuracy rate. It is unknown what the accuracy rate would be on streets with varying weather and lighting conditions.
"It's no different than a policeman holding a mug shot in his hand on the corner as people go by," said police Chief A.M. Jacocks. "In fact, it's more efficient."
People interviewed at the oceanfront said they would be concerned about cases of mistaken identity.
"There are plenty of people that look alike," Sterling Harris of Richmond told the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk. "I hope they don't sit behind the cameras looking for people to mess with."
Police insisted that the opposite is true. Allowing a computer program to identify someone takes the human error out of the equation, Capt. Mullen said.
Kent Willis, director of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, was worried about invasion of privacy. "This is simply the newest in a long series of new technologies that allow the government to invade our private space."
Police said they would toss out any pictures that didn't match, but Mr. Willis said police might decide it would be helpful to keep photos on file.
"There's a long history of government abusing information it has gathered," Mr. Willis said.
Private industries, such as casinos and check-cashing businesses, have used facial recognition technology for years, but the software garnered nationwide attention when the more than 70,000 people who came through the turnstiles of the Super Bowl last January were videotaped without their knowledge. No arrests were made.
Beach police will hear next week whether they will get a $150,000 federal grant to install the technology. If the money comes through, the program should be running by next spring.
"It'll be worth it if they get the right people," said Michelle Porter-Loftin as she shopped with her two children at the oceanfront. "Makes me wonder. I'd be worried about mistaken identity. We'll see."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide