Cumbria exploits ‘e-fit animation’

Cumbria Constabulary has released its first ever ‘EvoFIT animation’ in a bid to trace an offender. The constabulary has introduced the new technology to help victims and witnesses identify offenders by exploiting the fact that the human brain is better at recognising a face than describing it.

Jul 22, 2010
By Paul Jacques
Chief Constable Andy Marsh

Cumbria Constabulary has released its first ever ‘EvoFIT animation’ in a bid to trace an offender. The constabulary has introduced the new technology to help victims and witnesses identify offenders by exploiting the fact that the human brain is better at recognising a face than describing it.

The new system has been used for the first time by a team of Barrow officers investigating a robbery that occurred in April this year. A 17-year-old boy was sitting on a bench when he was approached from behind by the offender. The offender shoved him and made off with a Nintendo DS console that the victim was playing on.

Trained detectives have worked closely with the victim to put together a moving image of the potential offender.

Richard San Jose, Cumbria Constabulary’s scientific support manager, said: “Previous identification systems require a witness to choose from a menu of features, such as a crooked mouth or a pointy nose. EvoFIT, on the other hand, offers up a gallery of faces on a computer screen and then, based on witness choices, ‘evolves’ a face that resembles the offender.

“This is an exciting new system which we hope will greatly enhance criminal investigations around the county. Our communities are incredibly supportive of our work and by providing officers with the best available tools, we hope to generate even better responses from the public.”

DC Sarah McArthur who is leading the robbery investigation said: “We have been working hard to trace the person responsible for this crime which left the victim shaken and understandably upset and hope this new system will help.”

Dr Charlie Frowd, who developed the software with colleagues from the psychology department at the University of Central Lancashire, explained that the EvoFit system does not require the witness or victim to recall specific features, but allows them to select from recognisable shapes and ‘breed’ an image of the offender.

Once the shape of the face and features resemble their memory of the offender, they can manipulate the shape by ageing the face or adding weight, until they recognise the finished result.

The software program works by trained detectives showing the victim a series of 70 faces selected for gender and ethnicity on a computer screen. Of these, the victim chooses the six that most resemble the offender. Using more than 80 variables that relate to either facial shape or texture, the program merges, or ‘breeds’, the selected images and almost instantly comes up with 70 variations of the original six. The victim picks another six faces, and so on. After four or five rounds, EvoFIT produces a portrait the victim recognises.

Four detectives across the county undertook initial training and the system is now available for use during appropriate investigations in Cumbria.

Lancashire Constabulary was one of the first forces to trial the EvoFIT facial composite system as part of a six month formal evaluation in 2007. The face recognition technology is widely considered to be the third generation e-fit system.

The ‘Beast of Bozeat’

EvoFIT was first used in a criminal investigation by Northamptonshire Police as part of Operation Mallard.

The case involved a series of sexual offences carried out by a caucasian male believed to be in his late twenties in Southern England (all of which had been linked by DNA evidence). The construction of an EvoFIT was carried out in the normal way by the selection of shapes and textures using an updated hairstyle. Three generations (phases) of faces were required to produce ‘The Beast of Bozeat’.

Pictured above are the best intermediate images and the EvoFIT for each phase, with the final image a good likeness to the assailant.

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