Colorado Police Cautiously Eager About Body Cameras That Recognize Faces

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Photo: Facial Recognition Software
A facial recognition software display.

Facial recognition technology is evolving fast. Facebook uses it to identify people in photographs even before users tag them. The FBI uses the tool, too, and several police agencies in Colorado are investigating its potential use for law enforcement.

Two years ago, the Colorado Information Sharing Consortium tested facial recognition technology and found it wasn't reliable enough to be useful to police, according to Executive Director David Shipley. The consortium oversees COPLINK, a database where law enforcement agencies across the state share information about criminal activity with each other.

If the facial recognition technology was highly reliable, Shipley said, police investigators would be eager to use it -- including the possibility of it with body cameras.

"All of our members would love to have this technology," Shipley said. "We would love to be able to identify that crook, that person who is about to harm somebody else and stop them before they do because of some past crime and we're able to identify them.

"But it's just not that easy," he continued. "It's something that we must be able to make sure we don't damage individual reputations. We don't take somebody into custody that has not be proven responsible for a criminal act."

More CPR News reporting on police body cameras:

Shipley added that if facial recognition technology becomes available in Colorado, police agencies should engage their communities in discussions about its potential uses before implementing it.

Colorado Springs Police Cmdr. Pat Rigdon echoes that sentiment. He oversaw the purchase of 500 body cameras that his department hopes to have on the streets by early next year. The department, he said, is wary about the reliability of facial recognition, but could see limited uses for it. He says he would not favor adding it to body cameras without engaging the public first to explore what limits are reasonable.

"I think that would really be an area where we'd really have to have some community input on if they valued that technology here in Colorado Springs if we'd implement that or not," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado supports body cameras because they make police departments more accountable to the public, said Denise Maes, the organization's public policy director. But she also raises concerns about the use of facial recognition technology.

Shipley and Maes spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner in separate interviews.