Whether to solve crimes, ensure jail security, or protect the general public, law enforcement's ability to put a name to a face is critical in making timely decisions.

To address the issues of positive identification, Sheriff Everett Rice and the Pinellas County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office employ Viisage facial recognition technology. The technology helps the sheriff's office positively identify and verify individuals — whether they have just been arrested, are about to be released from detention, or even if they are visitors to the courthouse. Success of these applications suggest a greater impact facial recognition technology is likely to have on crime control for years to come.

Over time, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, like other law enforcement agencies, found itself faced with cumbersome booking, release and criminal investigation processes. A prominent problem was a lack of timely information, which often allowed suspects to get away with providing false identification, hampering law enforcement or sidetracking investigations. However the sheriff's office found facial recognition to be an invaluable tool in providing quick and accurate identity information. Facial recognition technology has allowed the sheriff's office to quickly access important identity information and retrieve records, thus allowing officers to correctly identify even uncooperative suspects and to conduct more efficient investigations.

In 2000, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office received a grant from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at the U.S. Department of Justice. The goal of the funding was to demonstrate the use of facial recognition technology for Florida law enforcement.

Under the leadership of Lt. James Main acting as project director, the sheriff's office decided to look beyond the traditional investigative uses of face recognition and to focus on how the quick, non-intrusive technology could be used to enhance operations at the jail.

By initially focusing on the booking facility where mugshot images are collected, Main believed he could create processing efficiencies by using the existing images to build a facial recognition database. The database would then serve as the foundation for identity solutions within Pinellas County, and throughout the state.

SELECTING A SUPPLIER

With the project scope determined, the sheriff's office chose Viisage facial recognition technology, based on its desire to build a large statewide database with potentially millions of images.

Viisage specializes in applying facial recognition technology to large image databases, enabling quick and accurate identification and verification. The technology is currently applied by government, law enforcement, more than 120 casinos, and various commercial businesses. Viisage is responsible for producing drivers' licenses in 16 U.S. states — six of which incorporate face recognition.

The Pinellas project began with the complete replacement of the mugshot system formerly used to capture an inmate's image and demographic information, including any scars, marks or tattoos. The sheriff's office had encountered a number of problems with its legacy booking system, such as a limited number of photos-per-record, a proprietary format and inadequate availability of these records throughout the department.

The new system was developed to address three main functions — pre-booking, formal booking and release.

PRE-BOOKING

When a prisoner enters the Pinellas County intake facility, his or her photograph is taken. The Viisage pre-book kiosk uses facial recognition technology to find the face in the field of view, crop the image and provide the deputy with four pre-booking images in less than 5 seconds. The pre-book image is captured for a number of reasons, mainly related to future investigations including:

  • The image establishes the arrestee's physical condition upon arrival at the jail;

  • The image is saved in the individual's record for future investigations, and often shows jewelry or accessories removed prior to formal booking;

  • The image is sent to the formal booking area to be used for visual confirmation that the correct individual has been booked; and

  • The image is used to conduct a preliminary facial recognition search, enabling law enforcement professionals to access the arrestee's history.

By using facial recognition on the pre-booking image, deputies can compare the suspect's face against the 700,000-plus images already in the database and match the image to the correct identity. With statistics showing that more than 60 percent of those arrested are repeat offenders, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office identifies hundreds of individuals each year using only their faces. Equipped with knowledge of the arrestee's criminal history, the officer is able to handle each case with appropriate care and caution. Further, when a match is found, the suspect's basic demographic data is automatically entered, regardless of alias names they may give, and the new record is linked to his previous bookings, thereby creating a more efficient process.

FORMAL BOOKING

Having completed the pre-booking process, inmates are kept in a holding area until the sheriff's deputies are ready to begin the formal booking process. Using the picture and basic demographic information captured in pre-booking, the deputy selects the individual to be booked from the pre-booking queue.

The booking software, developed by Viisage with input from Pinellas County corrections and investigative personnel, enables deputies to collect information including:

  • 48 demographic fields with 14 configured mandatory fields;

  • portrait (with and without glasses) and profile images;

  • unlimited scars, marks and tattoos with an easy to use graphical interface; and

  • signature (if desired)

A feature of the booking system is automatic face standardization used to capture the main portrait image. Using facial recognition, the camera automatically maneuvers to find the face in the field of view, center the face, zoom in and focus. This result is an image that is standardized for easy use in photo lineups.

Once a record is completed, the deputy prints a standard movement sheet and an inmate identification card. While Viisage gave the sheriff's office the option of using cards or bracelets, the department found that the cards were less expensive, easier to produce, harder to tamper with, and easier to read.

CHECKING IDENTITY BEFORE RELEASE

Before being released from the Pinellas County Jail, facial recognition is used again to help verify the individual's identity. This additional check uses a photograph taken at the time of release to compare against the formal booking image. The result is a side-by-side comparison of the two photos for the operator to view, along with a green, yellow, or red rating based on the facial recognition results, thus ensuring the release of the right inmate.

At the request of the Pinellas County investigators, who report that an inmate's appearance often changes during an extended stay at the jail, the release photo is permanently stored in the record. Adding the release photo to the criminal record, increases the likelihood of finding a face match if the individual is arrested again.

Minutes later, the images and the accompanying demographic information is made available to authorized law enforcement personnel in Pinellas County using Viisage's browser-based image retrieval system.

The searchable database system has significantly improved deputies' access to criminal history information, as well as their ability to use the data effectively. The database is searchable by any of the demographic fields. An individual's record includes demographic and image data, with previous bookings linked together. Images are displayed in a standard JPG format that can be copied, saved, or e-mailed. The browser-based system also supports mobile searches, either from a laptop computer or a PDA.

The image retrieval system also features an advanced photo lineup application used for the creation of “photo packs.” Investigators can adjust brightness, positioning and zoom without changing the actual photo. Also featured is a save function that allows a partially completed photo-pack to be saved for later use or a completed lineup to be e-mailed to a fellow investigator.

MOBILE IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM (M.I.S.)

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has expanded the use of facial recognition out to its patrol cars in order to enable deputies on the street to identify a subject who has been stopped and who possesses no identification. Deputies can take an image of a person using a digital camera, place the camera into a docking station within the patrol car and transfer the image to the laptop. The image is then enrolled into the system to be searched against the Pinellas County database. Within a few minutes the deputy is presented with the closest matches to the subject, in a gallery and rank order format.

At select workstations throughout Pinellas County, investigators can use facial recognition to compare any image acquired in an investigation against the entire sheriff's office booking database. The system allows an image — still, video, or composite — to be digitized and enrolled for searching. The closest matches are displayed in a gallery format and in rank order of results.

The system has been scaled to allow for the searching of more than 2 million images in less than 10 seconds. The browser-based system is also available to deputies in their cars.

As envisioned by the Department of Justice grant, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has partnered with other state and local agencies in Florida to maximize the effectiveness of the system. Agencies participating in the project include the Florida Department of Corrections, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), seven Florida Regional Terrorism Task Forces, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Orange County Sheriff's Office and Miami-Dade, Broward, Leon and Duval counties.

In response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sheriff Rice also decided to use facial recognition to assist in passenger screening. The unobtrusive nature of this system has enabled the screening of more than 20,000 passengers at the airport since its installation in January 2002.

Based on this success, the sheriff's office has implemented similar systems at the jail visitation center and most recently the Pinellas County Courthouse. These systems have correctly identified wanted individuals from the watch list database, including a match on the first day of operation at the courthouse.