facial recognition (Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com)

Cloud-based facial recognition helps sheriff's office ID suspects

A cloud-based facial recognition service is helping police in Washington County, Ore., to identify persons of interest. Amazon Web Services' Rekognition leverages an API that lets law enforcement identify alleged criminals with apps that match pictures of suspects against a pool of mugshots.

Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Senior Information Systems Analyst Chris Adzima decided to look into Rekognition when he was trying to find a faster and less expensive way to narrow down the list of suspects for crimes across the county.

The department was getting more requests to identify suspects from its vast pool of mugshots, so it decided to look into facial recognition, Adzima told GCN at the recent AWS Public Sector Summit.  “[Rekognition] was announced essentially about a week after I was asked to look into this, so it was the right timing.”

It took Adzima three days to move 300,000 mugshots collected since 2001 by the Washington County jail management system to an AWS S3 bucket. Through a PHP script, Adzima was able to index the images to make sure the program would provide the highest match for law enforcement officials. He also built a user interface to make it easier for law enforcement officials to use the service.

“The specific customization that I really liked about Rekognition and AWS as a whole was because it is all API based,” Adzima said.  “I’m able to utilize the service, but make it my own and integrate it with the framework that we already have for our web server.”

Adzima finds many law enforcement officers are hesitant to learn new systems for their jobs, but he said the Rekognition-based service is attractive to them because it is “kept in the framework that we already have.”

In Washington County, Adzima said Rekognition is having some problems with the highest match incorrectly identifying a suspect.

“In fact, most of the time a hit will come in with the highest probabilities being 90 percent similar, 85 percent similar or down from there, but the hit with the highest match won’t be the priority hit,” Adzima said. But he predicted that more machine learning capabilities will be added into the platform over time. “It would be nice to have them learn from the hits and misses so we are able to get more accurate results,” he said.

Rekognition is currently the only service the sheriff's office runs on the AWS US West public cloud, with the rest of the systems operated on premise. 

Washington County doesn’t submit any information governed by Criminal Justice Information System policies through Rekognition. The images submitted for facial recognition don’t have any identifiable information attached to them that isn’t publicly accessible.  When suspects are booked in Oregon, information such as their names, dates of birth, height and weight released to the public.

Last week, AWS announced Rekognition is now available in the GovCloud region for public-sector customers in the United States, which will make it accessible for CJIS-compliant applications.

More details on how Adzima configured Rekognition for his police department is available in an AWS blog post.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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