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Software Matches Police Sketches To Mugshots 63

Posted by samzenpus
from the find-the-perp dept.
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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Software Matches Police Sketches To Mugshots

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  • Bad Thing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DaMattster (977781) on Monday March 07, 2011 @02:10PM (#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.
    • by chaboud (231590) on Monday March 07, 2011 @02:21PM (#35408522) Homepage Journal

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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.

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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.

      • 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.

        • by Nadaka (224565)

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

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        hahahaha so well done, and appropriately modified.

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

        • 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

          • by martinX (672498)

            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.

      • by kmoser (1469707)
        That, combined with the infallible processing power of computers, means nothing could ever possibly go wrong.
    • by PPH (736903)

      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

    • 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 perpetr

    • How can these have any potential for misidentification?

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/23/the-14-funniest-police-co_n_469662.html#s69305&title=The_Graphing_Paper [huffingtonpost.com]

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • Facebook Mugshots? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Algorithmn (1601909) on Monday March 07, 2011 @02:17PM (#35408456) Homepage
    Whats the difference between police mugshots and facebook mugshots? I wouldn't think much..
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • Pssh, Faceback is even better. It doesn't even need part of the face to get a match.
  • I kinda wonder what took so long.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.

    • by Takichi (1053302)
      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.
  • by NoSig (1919688) on Monday March 07, 2011 @03:23PM (#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!"
  • 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...
  • 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?

  • 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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