Leicestershire first to trial new face recognition technology

Leicestershire Police is the first force in the UK test new ‘face recognition’ software that could transform the way criminals are tracked down.

Jul 30, 2014
By Paul Jacques
Picture: South Central Ambulance Service

Leicestershire Police is the first force in the UK test new ‘face recognition’ software that could transform the way criminals are tracked down.

NeoFace is capable of comparing any digital image – such as CCTV or police body-worn video camera footage – with any photograph held on the Leicestershire Police database.

NeoFace will enhance the image and then rank the database images against the new image in order to produce a list of likely matches. The system also maintains an audit trail for each step of image enhancement – something that is critical if it is to be used as evidence.

The computer program, developed by technology solutions specialist NEC, has been under evaluation since April and already some 200 suspects have been put through the system, with a high success rate of identification.

The software works by comparing dozens of measurements between key facial features. Leicestershire Police says it is impressive because it provides initial results in just a matter of a few seconds. Its current system, although computerised, involves manually searching for possible matches, which can take up to several hours.

Chief Inspector Chris Cockerill explained: “We’re very proud to be the first UK police force to evaluate this new system.

“Initial results have been very promising and we’re looking forward to seeing what can be achieved throughout the six-month trial.”

While the results cannot be used as evidence in court, the program does give detectives significant help in developing new lines of inquiry.

Identity Unit manager Andy Ramsay explained: “We have more than 90,000 photos on our system and NeoFace can compare someone’s image against our complete database in seconds. Besides the speed, it is also impressive because it can even find family members related to the person we are trying to identify.”

It is so advanced that it can match suspects even when wearing hats and hoodies, according to Chief Insp Cockerill.

And NEC claims the software is accurate even when analysing “highly compressed surveillance video and images previously considered of little to no value”.

Poor quality images can also be improved to enable a better match to be found and the enhancement tools include ‘correction’ of variants in ageing, race and pose angle.

Results in Leicestershire will be evaluated at the end of the trial, which is due to be completed in September, before other UK forces consider expanding the software’s use.

In the US, however, facial recognition software is already set to become the norm with the FBI due to deploy its own facial recognition system, called Next Generation Identification, across all 50 US states by the end of this year.

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