NEW ORLEANS — This week, the New Orleans City Council voted 4-2 to reverse itself and remove a ban on the use of facial recognition technology by the NOPD.
We are learning more about how police plan to use the high-tech software.
It’s been used by federal agencies and many local and state police to identify potential criminal suspects for years.
“It’s just a tool in the toolbox,” said NOPD Sgt. David Barnes who worked on the department's facial recognition policy.
Here’s how it works:
The software reads the geography of your face.
Key factors include the distance between your eyes, depth of your eye sockets, the distance from forehead to chin, the shape of your cheekbones, and the contour of your lips, ears and chin.
Your faceprint is then compared against a database of other known faces.
“What it is, it’s another means of us being able to try and identify perpetrators of violent crime,” Barnes said.
The city’s crime and other surveillance cameras would not be set up to use facial recognition in real time.
Instead, officers would have to use a still image from any nearby camera capable of capturing a high-quality, front facing shot of a potential suspect.
That could include body worn, security, cellphone and city cameras.
A positive identification alone would not be sufficient probable cause for an arrest warrant.
“It can only be used to develop a suspect and then conduct an investigation to determine if that individual is even a viable suspect,” Barnes said.
In order to use facial recognition, NOPD officers would have submit a request in writing. That request would have to be approved by a supervisor and vetted by the department’s Central Intelligence Center.
The picture would then go to the Louisiana State Analytic and Fusion Exchange in Baton Rouge to be compared to faces in the state’s criminal database.
“There’s racial and gender bias baked into this technology," said Chris Kaiser, Advocacy Director for the Louisiana ACLU. “We know that the risk of misidentification is much higher for people with darker complexions, especially for Black women and Black men. This is a majority Black city, so the risks of misidentification are really high.”
The ACLU is now calling for stricter safeguards on the use of facial recognition in the city.
“At a minimum, we should have basic data collection on how often it’s being used,” Kaiser said. “It’s not too much to ask for the NOPD to get a warrant to use this technology.”
Sgt. Barnes says there are audit requirements included in the NOPD’s facial recognition policy.
“We have to keep track of and audit all the information that we maintain about the requests, how often the requests are received and how effective they are.”
According to the NOPD, the department’s facial recognition policy has already been approved by the Department of Justice and the federal judge overseeing the NOPD’s ongoing consent decree.
Officer training on the use of the technology is now being planned. It is now expected to in use in the city before the end of the year.