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Wheat Ridge Police Department considering bringing back facial recognition technology

The department used facial recognition technology to assist in the investigation of crimes and missing persons until 2020.
Wheat Ridge police facial recognition
Posted at 10:35 PM, Oct 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-26 00:55:09-04

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — The Wheat Ridge Police Department is considering bringing back facial recognition technology.

The department used facial recognition technology to assist in the investigation of crimes and missing persons until 2020. At that time, a product vendor associated with Lumen stopped offering the service, so the department was no longer able to use the technology.

Now that Lumen has found another vendor, the police department hopes to use the technology once again.

"Taking it out of our toolbox makes things hard," said Jon Pickett, commander of the investigation bureau of the Wheat Ridge Police Department.

Facial recognition technology examines a person's face on a photo or video, and compares it to other faces in a database that's made up of mugshots. Police would need to obtain a warrant in order to access a person's I.D. photo and upload it to the system.

According to the police department's website, "Like many other investigative tools, facial recognition provides leads for officers and detectives to investigate and assists in reducing violent crime, fraud, and risks to the community’s safety."

"If we get a good enough picture, we can use the facial recognition and potentially get a lead," aIS Pickett.

Facial recognition technology can be a controversial topic.

According to a study published by Harvard in 2020, "Face recognition algorithms boast high classification accuracy (over 90%), but these outcomes are not universal. A growing body of research exposes divergent error rates across demographic groups, with the poorest accuracy consistently found in subjects who are female, Black, and 18-30 years old."

There have been multiple facial recognition technology lawsuits throughout the country.

Steve Beaty, professor of computer sciences at MSU Denver and member of the Colorado Task Force for the Consideration of Facial Recognition Services, said the technology is improving.

"The systems that I'm familiar with, the kinks have been worked out. There was a racial bias... and it got back essentially to the training set, that is whose faces were used to train the facial recognition software."

Beaty said the technology had to be trained on a variety of faces so it could more accurate.

According to a Colorado law passed in 2022, facial recognition technology can be used if law enforcement has "a reasonable suspicion that an identifiable individual has committed a criminal offense." It cannot be used to prohibit lawful individual exercise of other rights, like freedom of assembly.

Still, defense attorney Ryan Brackley is cautious about its use.

"I don't think we're at that point yet where we can rely on facial recognition technology as the sole reason for an arrest or certainly the sole reason for a conviction," Brackley said.

Pickett said the technology provides one more critical piece of information to officers.

"Now, that doesn't mean we go out and arrest that person on that alone," Pickett said. "We have to develop other information, but it does help us develop leads."

Wheat Ridge police held a meeting Wednesday to explain the use of the technology to the public and to get feedback. Two more meetings will take place in November — one on November 15 and the other on November 29.

The department will take into consideration opinions from the Wheat Ridge City Council, but council approval is not needed.

Wheat Ridge police said it did not receive complaints for the way facial recognition technology was used in the past.

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