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Facial Recognition IDs Capital Gazette Shooter

Though controversial and riddled with problems of a high false positive rate, facial recognition software led to a big win for police in Annapolis, Maryland, after a mass shooting at the Capital Gazette left five journalists dead and others wounded when a gunman attacked the newsroom.

After police took the suspected gunman into custody, a fingerprint database returned no results. The man reportedly had no identification on his person and refused to speak to investigators. According to the Washington Post, investigators ran his photo in Maryland’s facial recognition database, the Maryland Image Repository System (MIRS), and the system returned a match.

Unlike other cases, the Annapolis case resulted in great success and reportedly saved time as investigators tried to both identify a suspect and determine whether there were additional culprits. Anne Arundel County police chief Tim Altomare confirmed that they identified the suspect with help from other investigative techniques using facial recognition technology and confirmed there are no other suspects.

A 2013 effort to mitigate the problem of uncooperative suspects, who provide little or inaccurate information about their identities, awarded a grant to the Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS), a consortium of 82 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Thus began their work to develop query systems to be used by law enforcement agencies based on facial recognition.

At the time, facial recognition was a fairly new concept. Originally, the ARJIS database contained over 1, 300,000 booking photos from San Diego County and more than 93,000 images from the booking system of the Chula Vista Police Department. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, use has increased rapidly without meaningful oversight.

Despite the debates over the accuracy of the technology, a former lieutenant commander with the New York City Police Department’s cold case squad told the Washington Post that this case will likely embolden advocates of the technology and bring attention to the technology from law enforcement agencies. 

“The facial recognition system performed as designed,” said Stephen T. Moyer, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), in a statement. “It has been and continues to be a valuable tool for fighting crime in our state.”

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