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Software Matches Police Sketches To Mugshots

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the find-the-perp dept.

Crime 63

Zothecula writes "We've seen it in numerous TV shows and movies – the witness to a crime looks through a book of mug shots, then works with a police sketch artist to come up with a likeness of the nasty person they saw. After looking through hundreds of mug shots, however, it's possible that the tired-brained witness could look right at a photo of the guilty party and not recognize them. It's also possible that there is a mug shot of the criminal on a database somewhere out there, but that this particular witness will never see it. A computer system being pioneered at Michigan State University, however, could be the solution to such problems – it automatically matches faces in police sketches to mug shots."

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63 comments

Can't wait to be misidentified... (0)

SirBitBucket (1292924) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408296)

Oh, wait... do I have a mugshot?

Re:Can't wait to be misidentified... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408350)

What about your driver's license [utoronto.ca] ?

Re:Can't wait to be misidentified... (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408352)

Would a picture of my drinking piece from a renfaire count as a mugshot?

Re:Can't wait to be misidentified... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408828)

And just today I was thinking "what's lamer than renfaire?" And now I know: Your jokes!

Re:Can't wait to be misidentified... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35409626)

Oh zounds! You truly sullied his honor with that retort.

Re:Can't wait to be misidentified... (0)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408682)

Can't wait to be misidentified...

Heh. [lolcaption.com]

Bad Thing (3, Interesting)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408342)

This is a bad thing because the potential for misidentification is high. Couple this system with the notorious unreliability of eye witnesses and the potential for unintended coercion and you have a recipe for a constitutional disaster.

Only if you're a criminal! (5, Insightful)

chaboud (231590) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408522)

You have nothing to fear if you aren't a criminal. They're talking about mug-shots, not the readily available photo ID, license, and passport databases.

And we're talking about sketches from eye witnesses, people who perfectly saw the criminals in question, with near-perfect vision, spot-on memory, and the utterly transparent interpretations of police sketch artists. There is absolutely no way that a system never tested broadly against false positives could be used to improperly find the innocent guilty.

I mean, look at fingerprinting.

We have to trust that the government and police have our best interests in mind. If you can't turn to the frighteningly powerful to protect your civil rights, who can you turn to?

/hebetude

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35409242)

You have nothing to fear if you aren't a criminal. They're talking about mug-shots, not the readily available photo ID, license, and passport databases.

And we're talking about sketches from eye witnesses, people who perfectly saw the criminals in question, with near-perfect vision, spot-on memory, and the utterly transparent interpretations of police sketch artists. There is absolutely no way that a system never tested broadly against false positives could be used to improperly find the innocent guilty.

I mean, look at fingerprinting.

We have to trust that the government and police have our best interests in mind. If you can't turn to the frighteningly powerful to protect your civil rights, who can you turn to?

That this was modded insightful is far more terrifying than the actual system.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

aethogamous (935390) | more than 3 years ago | (#35410800)

Agreed - that a moderator can understand sarcasm is indicative of some much deeper problems with society.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35409294)

You don't have to be a criminal to have a mug shot taken. I'm sure there are many people who have had mug shots taken where the charges have been dropped prior to formal arraignment, let alone cases where the defendant has been found not guilty.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35409406)

i know you're trolling, but

If you were a criminal it does not mean that you should forever be classified as a criminal given that you've served your sentence/paid your debts to society. In fact, it's unconstitutional (as if that worthless document ever had any authority, but I provide this argument for those of you who have a twisted sense of history that taught them that the constitution has ever meant something of significance when going against the tides of society) and an abuse of human rights (the argument that should actually matter).

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35410340)

In fact, it's unconstitutional

Ah yes, the Zeroth Amendment...

Congress shall make no law infringing on something Slashdot users want. Actions not otherwise prohibited by law shall be forbidden if Slashdot users do not approve.

I jest, of course. There is no such amendment, so where exactly does the Constitution prohibit keeping mug shots as a matter of public record, or prohibit searching public records?

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35415196)

so where exactly does the Constitution prohibit

Bzzt! So sorry, but thanks for playing! The Constitution explicitly grants powers to the federal government. Where does the Constitution grant the federal government the power to meddle in states' databases?

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35415562)

My point is to illustrate the utter misuse of the term "unconstitutional" as a mechanism to evoke rage. You seem to have missed that.

The Constitution grants the federal government the power to do effectively anything, if the legislature approves, under the "necessary and proper" clause. It has traditionally been interpreted to mean that whatever Congress feels is necessary and proper, is. The Supreme Court can declare a power to be unnecessary, but it'd require some better reason than "we don't like this."

Usually, those better reasons come from other sections of the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights, where the powers of government are expressly limited. That brings me back to my original question: Where is anything in the Constitution that would prohibit this search of public records?

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409424)

Sounds like a program that would be whipped up on CSI in less than one day's work. And it will flash random mug shots on the screen as it works until it finds the one perfect match, like it does with fingerprints. I don't know what you are supposed to do with the flashing photos or fingerprints that didn't match, but they must be flashed.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409708)

How are you going to justify spending $200k on the wraparound transparent display if you don't flash random images on it?

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409568)

hahahaha so well done, and appropriately modified.

How many times has it been shown that even eye witnesses can't get it right?

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35410100)

I remember reading a while back about a college professor, back in the day when this kind of thing wouldn't get you fired and thrown in prison, had a man run into the crowded lecture hall (100+ students), scream something, shoot the professor (with blanks obviously) and then run out. He later asked each student to describe the man, what he had said, the reactions of the other students, etc only to receive wildly differing accounts of what happened.

Eye witnesses suck. They suck really, really bad. People don't understand just how badly because your own brain plays tricks on you; it fills in gaps, changes details, blocks other details, and is generally self verifying by nature. If you're attacked by someone and then go to the police lineup and pick out a guy that you think might have been the attacker, after a while all your memories will be carefully and expertly edited to include that mans face, it's just part of the way our brains work. And what's worse is that the more times you're asked to recall a memory the more said memory gets mucked up. It's most commonly pointed out with children; with the right line of questioning you can convince a little kid that their daycare provider performed satanic sexual rituals on them and the other children. You can do the same exact thing with adults, simply asking a question about a scene can plant ideas into the memory. Asking the same questions over and over again in different ways is practically guaranteed to do it.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

martinX (672498) | more than 3 years ago | (#35412642)

I saw a video of something similar in which a black man ran from the back, grabbed a bag and bolted. And, yes, eyewitness accounts varied wildly. They also varied according to the colour of the witness.

White witnesses would describe the man as "black" whereas black people would be more descriptive (light black etc).

IIRC, it was a doco on the (?)Justice Project.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35415414)

Dude... had me so worked up in less than three sentences; then I wrapped around the spectrum and realized the sarcasm. You'd make an excellent troll if you really wanted to do so.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (1)

kmoser (1469707) | more than 3 years ago | (#35415416)

That, combined with the infallible processing power of computers, means nothing could ever possibly go wrong.

Re:Only if you're a criminal! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35420578)

It will be computerized, why limit it to mug shots?????

Open the search to all driver license photos, too. Think of the children!!!!

Re:Bad Thing (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408556)

Same problem with having witnesses search through books of mug shots. But this eliminates the fatigue effects and subsequent errors: "I'm tired. I just want to go home. I'll pick the next seedy looking character that's close and the cops will cut me loose."

The whole eye witness unreliability issue has to be addressed by different means. Rather than having a sketch artist work off verbal descriptions, there are applications that allow witnesses to pick features from menus and assemble a composite photo. At any rate, I hope that any process proposed is put through some rigorous statistical testing before being put into use. Have some groups of test subjects observe a staged crime. Have them sit down with the identity application and see how well the solution agrees with reality. If I were on a jury, I don't think I'd accept any such evidence without some data to back up the validity of the results.

Re:Bad Thing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408694)

My recipe for constitutional disaster contains more trans-fats. Without them, it's like putting curb feelers on a Ferrari.

Re:Bad Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408784)

How likely is it that the wrong suspect gets matched, lives anywhere near the crime scene and also has other evidence to convict him?

Re:Bad Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408868)

This is a bad thing because the potential for misidentification is high. Couple this system with the notorious unreliability of eye witnesses and the potential for unintended coercion and you have a recipe for a constitutional disaster.

No, it's not a bad thing. It just makes what already happens easier, both the good and the bad. This is still contingent upon actual police work being done to either prove the suspect's guilt, or to find exonerating evidence.

Re:Bad Thing (1)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35410108)

This is a bad thing because the potential for misidentification is high. Couple this system with the notorious unreliability of eye witnesses and the potential for unintended coercion and you have a recipe for a constitutional disaster.

The especially bad problem is that it has a high likelihood of reinforcing misidentification: The witness comes in and works with the sketch artist, they run the picture through the database and out comes a picture of someone who looks like the sketch. The police ask the witness, "is this the perp?" Of course, the picture looks like the sketch or the computer wouldn't have spit it out, so most likely the witness says yes. Now the witness has had a better look at the mugshot than they ever got at the perpetrator, and in their mind they now know exactly what the perpetrator looks like -- like the mugshot. By the time they drag this poor sap into the police station, the witness is thoroughly convinced that the perpetrator is the person in the mugshot. And if that isn't the case, another innocent person is put behind bars.

Re:Bad Thing (1)

lackofsleep (1749320) | more than 3 years ago | (#35415304)

I agree. I can't remember the percentage of bad ids by witnesses but it's scary.

This will create reinforcement for dubious identifications by witnesses who will get locked into agreeing with the infallible computer.

This isn't really a terrible idea (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408410)

It has the potential of rapidly producing results without any particular infringement on civil liberties.

I would not expect it to be perfect and should probably be followed up by a manual search.

Re:This isn't really a terrible idea (3, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408706)

I agree, except for the fact that too many people have the idea that, "The computer matched them up, so it must be correct."

Re:This isn't really a terrible idea (1)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409218)

I agree, except for the fact that too many people have the idea that, "The computer matched them up, so it must be correct."

Case in point: facial recognition software (e.g. iPhoto) can't tell my younger sister and I apart. There are pictures where I'm the blonde and she's the brunette, which makes it even more complicated...

...laura

Facebook Mugshots? (5, Interesting)

Algorithmn (1601909) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408456)

Whats the difference between police mugshots and facebook mugshots? I wouldn't think much..

Re:Facebook Mugshots? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35409222)

Facebook has an extra smugness factor.

Re:Facebook Mugshots? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35409344)

Whats the difference between police mugshots and facebook mugshots? I wouldn't think much..

The police are more likely to respect your wishes with regards to privacy.

Re:Facebook Mugshots? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35410802)

Cops won't let you post a cartoon character instead of a photo.

Re:Facebook Mugshots? (1)

psithurism (1642461) | more than 3 years ago | (#35414566)

Whats the difference between police mugshots and facebook mugshots? I wouldn't think much..

Police mug shots are of your face, facebook mugshots are of whatever. I hope Robert Pattinson doesn't get into any trouble, because I'll be in the long line of suspects with perfect matches in such a system.

The year 2000 called... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408468)

Where have they been? I saw this on an episode of CSI about 10 years ago. It's not like it's new or anything.

Re:The year 2000 called... (1)

ddd0004 (1984672) | more than 3 years ago | (#35411844)

Yeah, but they can also join that mugshot database to a real-time database of security camera stills from every security camera in the world and then join that to real-time database of slurpie purchases to narrow the dataset down to a single record that contains every bit of demographic data about this person from eye color to boxers or briefs.

Autom. face recognition for identifying suspects (2)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408510)

What could possibly go wrong?


The Long Black Veil (J. Cash)
=====================

Ten years ago on a cold dark night,
someone was killed 'neath the town hall lights.
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed,
that the man who ran looked a lot like me.

Chorus ~ She walks these hills, in a long black veil.
She visits my grave, when the night winds wail.
Nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody knows, but me

The Judge said son, what is your alibi,
if you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die.
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life,
for i'd been in the arms of my best friends wife.

Chorus*

Now the scaffold is high, and eternity's near.
She stood in the crowd, and shed not a tear.
But some times at night, when the cold wind moans
In a long black veil, she cries over my bones

Chorus ~ She walks these hills, in a long black veil.
When the cold winds blow, and the night winds wail.
No body knows, no body sees.
No body knows, but me.

Re:Autom. face recognition for identifying suspect (1)

bugi (8479) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409246)

excellent point

James Bond? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408526)

Weren't they doing this in James Bond movies like 30 years ago? (Just checked...For Your Eyes Only, 1981...) I would have thought technology wouldn't be THAT far behind James Bond. A couple years, sure, but 30?

Re:James Bond? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408844)

What they have been doing is putting specifics into the mugshot database such as estimated height, weight, race, skin tone, hair styles and searching against metadata stored with the mugshots to produce a short list of mugshots to review.

Star Trek? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35411584)

NASA completes the first faster than light space flight in history

Weren't they doing this in Star Trek like 45 years ago? (Just checked...The Original Series, 1966...) I would have thought technology wouldn't be THAT far behind Star Trek. A couple years, sure, but 45?

Picasa? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408650)

So they'll just put all the mugshots into picasa and use the faces tool?

Faceback (1)

Tr3vin (1220548) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408678)

Pssh, Faceback is even better. It doesn't even need part of the face to get a match.

Logical extension of the fingerprint database (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408712)

I kinda wonder what took so long.

Pretty bad match up in the article there. I wonder if they have the right guy

Identification beyond Mugshots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408836)

I think that this may be a good thing, but with the ability to have configuration settings that allow for a near match to a loose match. What I mean by loose match is that the configuration may say allow a setting for x number of non-close matches to exist for the mugshot to appear.

Long ago, Michael Jackson did a video where he had pictures of faces where parts of the face match from one person to the next to form the transition. Could something like this be used?

Also, when mugshots are taken, I am of the belief that identifying marks on ones person should also accompany the mug shot. For instance, tattoos and birthmarks or even scars may be very helpful when trying to identify an individual of a crime. It also allows for a more accurate inclusion of mugshots if such info is added to the mugshot search.

On a side note...
It was funny, I witnessed a crime by some teenagers once, and I figured out what they were up to based on how they acted. It made me take notice of the way they looked and the way they were dressed. A few days later, based on some of my eye witness testimony they were caught and put in a line up. The officer brought a grouping of 12 photos, each group of 6 contained one of the teenagers. In one line up I identified the teen and two others, one I had dated and one I went to High School with. On the second set I just identified the teen who I remembered.

Even though I knew what the boys looked like, the photos really made me think long an hard about who I was selecting. I did not want to be wrong, and accuse the wrong person.

Japan Stops Pfizer Vaccine After 4 Deaths (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35408840)

small #? what's the problem with them people? forgot to drink their round-up first?

Look through books of mugshots first? (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35408940)

I thought when they had witnesses work with a sketch artist, they just had a book with drawings of generic facial features, such as a page on noses, a page on eyes, etc. Flipping through pages of mugshots then describing the suspect to a sketch artist just screams out for identification and contamination. I thought the whole point of a sketch artist was you did the sketch first, then compared it to potential subjects/previous mugshots to see any similarities.

Lineup (1)

BassMan449 (1356143) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409060)

Why not do the same thing here as they do with lineups? Have the computer pick the top 10 closest matches and display them. If the witness selects the photo of the same one the computer thought was correct then you have a likely match.

Re:Lineup (1)

Takichi (1053302) | more than 3 years ago | (#35411286)

It would make more sense to get 10 results based on facial recognition and then use other data to narrow the list based on other evidence, rather than continuing to rely on one aspect that is already known to be prone to error.

Re:Lineup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35412666)

You are assuming one of the 10 closest matches is actually the perpetrator.

This is the problem with mugshot databases: the victim assumes the perpetrator is in the database and unfortunately picks _someone_ in the database that happens to look the closest like the perpetrator.

Could be good, will probably be bad (4, Insightful)

NoSig (1919688) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409528)

This is great IF it does not in any way count as evidence against the identified person - this system should only serve as a way for the police to get someone to investigate that might then later be found to be guilty on other grounds. The reason for this is that eye witnesses are not reliable, so if you make them go through a million photos, they ARE going to get it wrong. The best they can do is to identify a few pictures that kind of look like the person they saw, but we humans are more likely to arbitrarily choose one picture out of the likely candidates to be the RIGHT one, instead of admitting that we can't say for sure. Making the computer eliminate most of the less likely matches only increases the unreliability of the system because eye witnesses can then in effect look through even more pictures in less time leading to an even higher false positive rate.

It's also OK to put someone the police suspects on other grounds in a lineup and have the witness pick that person out. What's bad is combining the two things by having the computer select a likely match and put that person in the lineup based solely on matching the witness description - that has all the same problems as having the witness go through the database themselves. The problem is that a computer system with millions of entries is always going to produce a person who looks a lot like the right guy, even if the actual right guy isn't in the database at all, and that is going to make many witnesses identify the wrong guy based on striking similarity.

The even bigger problem is that this problem is not obvious and many juries and even some defense lawyers aren't going to understand the problem correctly - "he says this guy attacked him, what more is there to say in this matter? Guilty!"

Why's it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35409554)

Why is it, when searching for a serial rapist in Washington DC, it always pulls up Bill Clinton?

I'm amazed this is new(s) (1)

DomHawken (1335311) | more than 3 years ago | (#35409578)

Gobsmacked that this hasn't been in use for years - at least to weed out the obvious mismatches before someone starts going through them one by one...

Re:I'm amazed this is new(s) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35410302)

It's not new(s). Tech like this has been available for years.

Witness Account No Good + Sketch = Uni Bomber (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 3 years ago | (#35410532)

A match is only likely if the description of the suspect and the subsequent police sketch are accurate, which they usually aren't.

Uni-bomber anyone?

Star Trek (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35414464)

I'm actually surprised we haven't seen something like this [inventinginteractive.com] yet.

That's Dr. Hunter isn't it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35417144)

I think you've improved a great deal.

I am reminded (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 3 years ago | (#35417606)

of the screen cap of a local news broadcaster with an artist's rendition of a wanted criminal in the background that is nearly identical to the broadcaster.
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