London Met Police and Greenwich join forces in €8.5 million face-recognition project

Date of release: Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dr Josh DavisAn €8.5 million project to improve ways of identifying offenders at large-scale crime scenes features the University of Greenwich working in partnership with London Metropolitan Police.

The three-and-a-half year LASIE (Large Scale Information Exploitation of Forensic Data) project aims to develop computer software to automate the painstaking process of analysing CCTV images of crime scenes.

The Met will expand and roll out its ‘super-recogniser’ programme, developed with the university to identify officers with exceptional face-recognition talents, to other police forces, as part of the project.

The programme was designed and led by Dr Josh Davis, Senior Lecturer in the university’s Department of Psychology, Social Work and Counselling. Dr Davis’ skill in spotting people with a talent for face-recognition has helped position the Met as world leaders in the identification of offenders in CCTV images.

He helped the Met identify a team of super-recognisers, which then reviewed over 200,000 hours of footage from CCTV and other cameras taken during the 2011 London riots.

“You are born with good face recognition talents or you are not – it is as simple as that,” Dr Davis says. “Out of approximately 5,000 published images of the riots, the Met super-recognisers were responsible for identifying one third of the offenders.

“One super-recogniser Met officer identified 180 people who were subsequently arrested and charged – a tremendous success rate.”

As part of the LASIE project, Dr Davis is now creating in-depth tests which will identify super-recognisers among new recruits to the Met.

“There are clinical tests for assessing people who have poor face recognition abilities – prosopagnosia or face blindness – which is often the result of a brain injury. I am building on these tests, so that the Met can grade the face recognition skills of new officers,” he says.

“It is not something people can be taught – although we do hope that further research will identify the parts of the brain that are active in face recognition, which will contribute to our understanding of the cognitive processes involved.”

Dr Davis, a recipient of one of the university’s Early Career Research Awards, says the availability and quantity of CCTV and video evidence from scenes of crime is growing rapidly and is now an essential source of evidence for police officers seeking to track down offenders in large-scale events. People arrested on suspicion of committing an offence are highly likely to admit their guilt after seeing themselves on video.

“An important part of LASIE is seeing how far analysis of film and images, often of very variable quality and from many different angles, can be automated,” he adds.

“There is facial recognition software available but currently it has to have a receptive, non-moving participant, in a set position in a dedicated environment, for a certain period of time. That is not what happens in real life situations and at large-scale, fast-moving crime scenes.”

In addition to the Metropolitan Police and the University of Greenwich, the European Commission-funded LASIE project partners include Centre for Research and Technology Hellas; Neuropublic A.E. Pliroforikis & Epikoinonion; Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London; SenseGraph Limited; Institutt for Fredsforskning Stiftelse; Huawei Technologies; Düsseldorf GmbH; Technische Universität Berlin; United Technologies Research Centre Ireland, Limited; Innovation Engineering srl; Venaka Media Limited; ACIC SA; Insitut Mines – Telecom; Universidad Politecnica de Madrid; VisionWare – Sistemas de Informação S.A; and Ayuntamiento de Madrid.

To find out more about studying with the university’s Department of Psychology, Social Work and Counselling, within its Faculty of Education & Health:

Story by Public Relations