Thursday, December 5, 2013
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The facial recognition software being implemented by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office allows deputies to compare pictures with the jail’s database of about 50,000 images in search of a match.
Courtesy Dynamic Imaging Systems Inc.
When a suspect’s identification is in doubt, a deputy will take a person’s picture with a smartphone or a digital camera.
Courtesy Digital Imaging Systems Inc.
The county's interest in the technology originated with an incident at the jail in 2009, when the wrong person -- a maximum-security inmate -- was released on bail.
That man and the one who was supposed to be released had similar names. The man who was released didn't let the jail's staff know his true identity. He later turned himself in and faced additional charges for the deception.
The facial recognition software should help prevent such problems, as will other safeguards that were established afterward, officials said.
Owen Friedrich, product manager with Dynamic Imaging Systems, said the technology takes advantage of one of the strengths of county jails -- they have contact with many defendants. The Cumberland County Jail handles about 10,000 bookings a year.
Even a picture several years old can yield a match, Friedrich said.
Although facial recognition software has been available for years, the cost has come down so it is more affordable for law enforcement, he said.
Some feel the technology poses civil-liberty concerns.
"This technology is still in its infancy and at the current point it's notoriously unreliable," said Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. "As a result, the ACLU has objected to the use and expanded use of facial recognition technology in the public sphere."
"When people are constantly under surveillance, it treats them as if they may have done something wrong," he said.
Schwartz, with the Maine Chiefs of Police, said the tool must be used judiciously.
"(Officers) would have to be pretty sure before they made a decision based solely on that photo," he said.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: