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City Committee to Hearing Briefing on Police Use of Facial Recognition Software

Critics claim the software could be used to violate civil rights

Published on Monday, August 10, 2020 | 7:39 am

In a presentation at the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, Pasadena Police Cpl. Thomas Blanchard will update the council’s Public Safety Committee (PSC) on the department’s use of facial recognition software.

“The public conversation regarding facial recognition is critical so we can set boundaries and learn to live with technology as opposed to eliminating it,” Police Chief John Perez told Pasadena Now. “It also allows us to correct misinformation. Police accountability is equally important so we gain the trust and confidence from the community in how we deliver services for a better community.”

The meeting begins at 3 p.m. and can be viewed at

The department currently uses two forms of the software: Vigilant, which stores mugshots from across the nation, and LACRIS, which primarily uses mugshots from L.A. County and other jurisdictions that participate.

As of February, the county system had helped detectives in 30 cases, according to Lt. William Grisafe. So far, the Vigilant system has produced no hits.

The software maps an individual’s facial features mathematically and stores the data as a faceprint. The software uses deep learning algorithms to compare a live capture of digital image to store the face print in order to verify an individual’s identity.

The media was given a presentation of the software in February. Despite concerns by local activists, none attended the public meeting.

The presentation describes the software as an “Investigative tool only,” that “cannot be used a sole basis for arrest.”

The software, which provides only an investigatory lead, assists detectives in criminal investigations where a picture of an unknown suspect is provided, but the suspect’s identity is not known.

Detectives must confirm the match before further steps can be taken.

Councilman John Kennedy, who chairs the PSC, told Pasadena Now that he shares the concerns of civil and human rights organizations.

“We know empirically that nearly 40 percent of the false matches by the facial recognition tool being used by police agencies involved people of color,” Kennedy said. “My limited research reveals that facial recognition softwares have a harder time establishing the accurate identity of women and darker-skinned people. Such could have unintended outcomes and possibly life-limiting or eliminating results.

“Therefore, there must be appropriate and serious checks and balances of the use of facial recognition systems. If the concerns cannot be eliminated or reduced to acceptable levels in PPD’s use, I see no other option forward but to pause the use of the technology in Pasadena until the inherent biases have been arrested.”

According to Perez, the software is not being used in body worn cameras.

Assembly Bill 1215 prohibits a law enforcement agency or law enforcement officer from installing activating or using any biometric surveillance system in connection with an officer’s camera or data collected by an officer’s camera. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill last year. It will remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2023.

Critics claim the software could be used to violate civil rights.

In 2018, facial recognition software was used during a Taylor Swift concert at the Rose Bowl. Cameras were hidden in a display kiosk showing videos of Swift’s rehearsals, Mike Downing told Rolling Stone. Images of the faces of the concert-goers in the kiosk were sent to a facility in Nashville, where they were cross-referenced with a database containing images of Swift’s stalkers.

In 2012 the San Diego Association of Governments allowed law enforcement to use Tactical Identification System software. The software focuses on unique textures and facial patterns, including ear shape, hair and skin color—using the distance between the eyes as a baseline.

The software compares that data to a database containing 1.8 million images collected by the San Diego County Sheriff’s office.

There were no public hearings on the software in San Diego.

Even worse, in Carlsbad, city officials falsely claimed that the city did not use facial recognition software when, in fact, that department had been part of a regional face recognition pilot program for a number of years.

In total, 14 Carlsbad officers were using special smartphones that capture faces and match them against the county’s mug shot database.

City officials could not produce policies or guidelines for the use of the devices, and had no record of how many times the devices were used. The only information they had was the user’s manual for the device.

Several agencies have banned law enforcement agencies from using their databases in facial recognition software, including the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

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