Many of California's local law enforcement agencies have access to facial recognition software for identifying suspects who appear in crime scene footage, documents obtained through public records requests show. Three California counties also have the capability to run facial recognition searches on each others' mug shot databases, and others could join if they choose to opt into a network maintained by a private law enforcement software company. The network is called California Facial Recognition Interconnect, and it's a service offered by DataWorks Plus, a Greenville, South Carolina–based company with law enforcement contracts in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Santa Barbara. Currently, the three adjacent counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino are able to run facial recognition against mug shots in each other's databases. That means these police departments have access to about 11.7 million mug shots of people who have previously been arrested, a majority of which come from the Los Angeles system.
For years, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) hasn't given a clear answer on whether it uses facial recognition in its policing work. On Monday, the agency told The Los Angeles Times it has used the technology nearly 30,000 times since late 2009. The LAPD uses the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System (LACRIS), a database of more than 9 million mugshots maintained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. At one point, more than 500 LAPD personnel had access to the system, though the department claims that the number is closer to 300 in recent months. Josh Rubenstein, a spokesperson for the LAPD, said he couldn't be sure how many arrests LACRIS has helped the police department make.
The Los Angeles Police Department has used facial-recognition software nearly 30,000 times since 2009, with hundreds of officers running images of suspects from surveillance cameras and other sources against a massive database of mugshots taken by law enforcement. The new figures, released to The Times, reveal for the first time how commonly facial recognition is used in the department, which for years has provided vague and contradictory information about how and whether it uses the technology. The LAPD has consistently denied having records related to facial recognition, and at times denied using the technology at all. The truth is that, while it does not have its own facial-recognition platform, LAPD personnel have access to facial-recognition software through a regional database maintained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. And between Nov. 6, 2009, and Sept. 11 of this year, LAPD officers used the system's software 29,817 times.
Robert Williams went to jail because a computer--and a pair of Detroit police officers--made a mistake. The officers relied on facial recognition software to identify Williams as a suspect in a 15-month-old shoplifting case. They were wrong--making Williams perhaps the first known case of a wrongful arrest resulting from faulty facial recognition. Earlier this month, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon swore off or paused their sale of facial recognition tools to US police and called on Congress to regulate the technology. It was sold by police contractor DataWorks Plus, and powered by algorithms from Japanese tech firm NEC and Colorado-based Rank One Computing.
A false facial recognition match has led to the arrest of another innocent person. According to the Detroit Free Press, police in the city arrested a man for allegedly reaching into a person's car, taking their phone and throwing it, breaking the case and damaging the screen in the process. Facial recognition flagged Michael Oliver as a possible suspect, and the victim identified him in a photo lineup as the person who damaged their phone. Oliver was charged with a felony count of larceny over the May 2019 incident. He said he didn't commit the crime and the evidence supported his claim.