Facial recognition solves crime cases

Local News

MACON COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — The sheriff’s office is using unique technology to catch criminals.

It helped solve a shoplifting case just last week. Every year in the U.S., facial recognition software solves thousands of cases which would otherwise go cold. That technology is being used right here in Central Illinois.

We’ve all seen surveillance footage from outside gas stations, inside stores, and even in some people’s homes. But what happens when someone gets caught on those cameras breaking the law? This is how they turn that video into a lead on the case.

Have you ever wondered how police catch criminals? At the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, facial recognition software can be the key to solving a case.

“People are the biggest liars there are, so you have to use science and forensic science to find out what’s the truth.”

Besides federal agencies, this sheriff’s office is the only one to use this technology in Illinois. Ed German runs the department. When someone breaks the law and gets caught on surveillance, he takes a still image of his or her face and his computer does the rest.

“We will look at the overall shape of the face the overall shape of the eyebrows, the shape of the mouths, the lips, the nostrils.”

The list goes on to 125 different points including tattoos, moles and creases. Because of federal rules protecting people’s privacy, we can’t show the faces in the criminal database. So to test how well this works, pictures of reporter Jennifer Jensen, were used instead.

“The computer created a template of Jennifer’s face and instantly compared it to the 58,000 templates in the database. These six templates are the best match.”

He ran Jennifer’s pictures through arrest files which have 58,000 mug shots from Macon County. Even with a blurry image, the computer was able to match her fake surveillance picture to pretend mugshots. He says it’s as easy pie: P.I.E.

“Pose, illumination and expression are three things that will have a big impact on whether or not a face can be identified.”

Pose is the angle of their face toward the camera, illumination is the lighting and expression is the emotion on their face, like a smile or a frown.

“It’ll create a map of those features in relationship to each other.”

That map can lead them to an arrest.

“It’s very helpful because otherwise many crimes would go unsolved.”

But it’s not 100% effective.

“With facial recognition, we are not making a positive identification. We’re saying everything we see matches and we give it to the investigators.”

It’s a lead and a starting point to build their case. When they have a decent image to go off of, German says 30% of cases are solved through this technology. 

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