Anaheim Police To Go After Criminals With Facial Recognition Software

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

The Anaheim Police Department.

After an 18-month pilot phase, Anaheim officials are set to buy police officers a facial recognition software that compares images of people suspected of crimes against databases of booking mugshots.

City staff in their report say an annual $35,000 agreement with Veritone, a Costa Mesa-based artificial intelligence company, will help accelerate investigations, solve more cases, and also “clear” people of involvement in crimes. 

City Council members will vote on the agreement at their virtual, live streamed meeting tonight.

Officials argue the specific software the city would be subscribing to, IDentify, can recognize a suspect in a way that can’t be “duplicated via traditional means.”

Veritone’s press office didn’t respond to email messages seeking comment.

From the time Anaheim initiated its trial period with Veritone in 2017, the use of facial recognition technology in law enforcement has remained controversial up and down the state. 

Last year in October, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning law enforcement’s use of facial recognition and biometric tracking technology on body-worn camera footage for three years. The ban, which was opposed by a number of law enforcement unions, took effect at the start of this year.

And a new proposed state Assembly bill — which would establish a legal framework for expanding the use of facial recognition technology for government agencies and private companies — has been opposed by civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argues the bill would disproportionately harm people of color, and is currently making the rounds in State Legislature committees.

“Technology companies may promise theoretical and unproven public health benefits, but the reality is that facial recognition is already being used to harm Californians. ICE is taking advantage of state and private facial recognition systems to target immigrants,” reads an ACLU coalition letter in opposition to the bill. “Police have used it to target people of color. Governments are using it to oppress religious minorities and discourage free expression.”

Three California cities — San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley — have banned government use of facial recognition.

Staff in their report maintain the police department’s application of the technology would be narrow, and staff that the comparisons of suspects’ images would only be attempted “against individuals whose mugshots were lawfully obtained during their booking process for a criminal offense.” 

Additionally, staff say the personnel hours required to manually search and compare photographs, or to conduct surveillance and “traditional investigative methods” would “far eclipse” the amount of the $35,000 contract and “likely not produce similar results.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporting fellow. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.