Police cameras scan for criminals
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Jul 03, 2001
Tampa is the first U.S. city to use high-tech surveillance cameras in public
spots to capture images of people's faces to then match against a database
of people wanted for crimes.
Using software developed by Visionics Corp., the Tampa Police Department's
face-recognition system will scan the Ybor City district for images to match
against a database that eventually will hold 30,000 records, said Detective
Bill Todd. The database will contain images of sexual predators, people
with felony warrants, and runaway children and teens, he said.
Todd described the district as a rejuvenated entertainment area, akin
to New Orleans, but added there's not a whole lot of crime there. The 36
cameras are positioned in a 16-block area.
Once a camera captures an image, it's routed through the database. If
there's no match, the image is deleted. If an image matches a record in
the database, a sound will alert the police officer monitoring the system.
The officer would then compare the two images and decide whether it warrants
further inquiry. If the officer decides it doesn't, the image is deleted.
But if the officer thinks there is a match, officers in the field would
Todd said the department has instituted policies for its police officers
to make a determination. He said police would not use "Gestapo-style" tactics
when approaching a person, but simply ask for identification. "If it's not
the person in the database, then we say, "Thank you for your cooperation,'
" he said, adding that a written log of the event is kept.
Richard Smith, chief technology officer for the Privacy Foundation,
a nonprofit research and education group, said Tampa is "really going way
over the line."
He questioned how well the system worked and whether many people are
being stopped. "I'm not against high-tech surveillance in general," he said.
"It's a system like this with innocent people...and putting them through
a database and checking them to see if they have a criminal record."
Todd said the police are using the surveillance system and software
to deter crime, not to infringe on anyone's rights.
"We don't believe it's intrusive at all," he said. "This is no different
than a police officer standing on the corner with a case of mug shots and
looking at people walking on the street."
Tampa will test the software for a year at no cost before deciding whether
to negotiate a renewal. Neither Todd nor Visionics spokeswoman Frances Zelazny
would comment on specifics of the agreement or the price of the software.
Zelazny said Tampa is the first U.S. municipality to use the system
in a public safety initiative. In England, Newham Borough of London has
been using Visionics' software in a camera surveillance system since the
fall of 1998, she said. In the United States, she said many law enforcement
agencies use the software for mug shot booking systems.