FACIAL RECOGNITION: Cleveland planning to take the lead on facial recognition technology
Making Cleveland a leader in facial recognition technology is in the sights of a new police boss.
South Wales Police and the Metropolitan Police have piloted the use of cameras to find suspects.
But there have been some problems since their launch – with concerns from civil liberties campaigners and devices used in Wales ruled unlawful in 2020.
Using technology to combat crime is one of Steve Turner’s 10 key aims in his police and crime plan for the next three years.
The Conservative Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner told councillors he’d held conversations with the force about the software to catch criminals after a bid for funding last month.
Mr Turner noted the problems seen in Wales concerning “collateral identification” which he believed needed “ironing out”.
He also recognised “teething problems” faced by the Met.
However, he said: “Those are in the process of being ironed out and Cleveland will be at the forefront of facial recognition technology.”
The use of automatic facial recognition technology by South Wales police was ruled to be unlawful by the Court of Appeal last year.
The verdict came after a legal challenge by civil rights group Liberty and Cardiff resident Edward Bridges.
However, the judgement has not been seen as a block to completely stopping use of the technology – with the South Wales ruling also finding the benefits were “potentially great” and intrusion was “minor”.
The Welsh force had used the devices at a series of public events by extracting faces captured in a live feed and automatically comparing them to faces on a “watchlist”.
This list was made up of those wanted on warrants, those who’d escaped custody and suspects as well as those in need of protection and vulnerable folk.
Increasing the number of drones used by Cleveland Police is also an aim of Mr Turner.
Devices have been used in the past to tackle rural crime west of Stockton as well as trouble in the Eston Hills.
The commissioner told the latest Cleveland Police and Crime Panel there were extra drones on order – and the force was increasing its piloting capacity.
Mr Turner said: “Every borough from the end of this month, hopefully, will have its own drone capability – and every response team in every borough will have its drone capability.
“It’s what we’re aiming for.
“To put that in perspective, if we launch the police helicopter from Humberside it costs us about £3,500 every time we launch it.
“Drones cost us next to nothing to deploy, so every time we deploy a drone as opposed to the police helicopter we’re saving ourselves £3,500.”
However, the commissioner later noted the range limits of most drones at the moment when it came to tracking off road bikes outside tight estates.
The panel heard a crime reporting app, DNA tagging sprays for off road bikes, and sobriety tags to flag up when repeat drunken criminals had taken on too much alcohol were also part of plans.
And Mr Turner also revealed he’d held a conversation with a Number 10 analyst about the potential for the force to try out a “military style drone” as part of a possible trial.
“It’s the type of thing you’d see on the telly flying across Afghanistan at 4000ft as an eye in the sky,” he added.
Redcar and Cleveland councillor Chris Gallacher was happy with the prospect of more drones – but wasn’t convinced the force would be able to get hold of a military style device.
Written by Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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