Avon Police Department campaigns for use of facial recognition services
In June 2022, the Colorado State legislature passed Senate Bill 22-113, which outlined requirements law enforcement agencies must follow in order to utilize facial recognition services as a crime-fighting tool — including receiving the OK from the agency’s local governing body.
Among other agencies dotted across the state, the Avon Police Department has engaged in the process outlined by the senate bill in order to obtain permission from the town of Avon to re-employ facial recognition services for investigative purposes.
Avon Chief of Police Greg Daly said the department began the process when one facial recognition service the agency formerly employed, Lumen, a LexusNexus Risk Solutions company, began restricting access per Colo. Senate Bill 22-113.
“(Lumen) said, ‘Listen, where we’ve had the facial recognition capability turned on, we’re turning it off for everybody until such time as your entity goes through senate bill required process. Once you do, and you’ve got your permission from your reporting authority, which in our case is Avon Town Council, then we’ll turn back on your access,'” Daly said. “I thought it was very upfront of them to do that, very responsible.”
Alongside several other agencies, Lumen software was used by the Avon Police Department within the Colorado Information Sharing Consortium. Daly said the sharing platform allows the 87 Colorado agencies within the consortium to access a database of information connected to former criminal cases.
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“So, if we were to send a photograph into Lumen, it compares against all of the arrest mugshots of any of these entities that have been provided access to this Lumen tool,” Daly said.
Though, Lumen was not the only facial recognition service the Avon Police Department utilized in its criminal investigations before Senate Bill 22-113 was passed. Daly said that alongside Lumen through the Colorado Information Sharing Consortium, the agency would also send photos of criminal suspects— from either security camera footage or what witnesses captured — to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the State Department of Revenue.
As the state’s investigative body, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has access to several tools that help law enforcement solve crimes. With its DNA testing capabilities, fingerprint analysis and firearms analysis, the bureau also has access to a database of booking photographs as well as access to the FBI’s database of booking mugshots, Daly said.
So, with Lumen and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation services, suspect photographs are “compared effectively with people who have been arrested for a crime or at least been charged with a crime,” Daly said.
The State Department of Revenue operates the Division of Motor Vehicles, which also houses a database of photos that, when compared to a suspect photograph, could also be a useful tool in a criminal investigation. Like the facial recognition services provided through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, law enforcement agencies could also send high-resolution suspect photographs to the State Department of Revenue for comparison against a database of driver’s licenses and identification card photos.
Despite losing access with Senate Bill 22-113, the Avon Police Department has potential availability to all three facial recognition services should the agency receive permission from the Town Council to use them for criminal investigations.
The software that compares the suspect photos with database photos maps faces in a numerical way, Daly said. An algorithm applies a numeric value to faces, and people with similar numeric values within the system may have their photos pulled out for further examination.
“I think that (having agencies re-evaluate their use of these services) was a good sort of direction from the state legislature because it’s not a perfect science, that comparison,” Daly said. “But, if we were to get a set of photographs, the idea is we would look at each of those individuals and sort of figure out, would they have any reason to be in the Avon area? You know, are there any links to Avon? That sort of thing.”
Daly also said that should Town Council approve the agency’s use of facial recognition services, officers would do a 4-hour training in facial recognition and sergeants and detectives would undergo 24 hours of training.
While likeness found using facial recognition services cannot be considered proof that someone committed a crime, Daly said it can be used as a tool for investigation as well as a means to build a solid case, should a suspect be charged with a crime.
When law enforcement agencies send a case to a district attorney’s office, they want to have as strong a case as possible, Daly explained, because the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person committed a crime, should the case go all the way to a jury trial.
“So, when a case goes, and we have probable cause, but then you know, we have to build on that cause and help get the case to that bar of beyond reasonable doubt,” Daly said. “We would never want to take a photograph and just send it up to a prosecution and say, ‘Oh yeah, well, we have pretty good idea it’s that person.’ We need to have a very solid case. This senate bill has ensured that is the case.”
So, like fingerprinting, DNA testing and getting warrants on a cell phone or bank account, Daly said that should facial recognition services be used by the Avon Police Department, it would serve as another tool in law enforcement’s toolbox that could help solve a crime and get justice for victims.
Daly said that when people hear ‘facial recognition’ the image of real-time facial comparison to databases using public security cameras may come to mind. However, the process the Avon Police Department would use, should Town Council approve it, wouldn’t look much like that.
Avon Police Department’s “Notice of Intent and Request to Use Facial Recognition Services in Accordance with Colorado Revised Statutes” identified six sole circumstances in which facial recognition technology may be used for legitimate purposes by law enforcement.
Authorized uses of facial recognition technology are as follows:
- “To identify an individual when there is a basis to believe that such individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.”
- “To identify an individual when there is a basis to believe that such individual is a missing person, crime victim or witness to criminal activity.”
- “To identify a deceased person.”
- “To identify a person who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to identify themselves; with valid identification, or who appears to be using someone else’s identification, or a false identification.”
- “To mitigate an imminent threat to health or public safety.”
“This is not the police or the government wanting to identify somebody walking down the street, or somebody that was in the mall or whatever,” Daly said. “That’s not the purpose. We have to have a legitimate criminal investigation reason to be sending these photographs in.”
Now, when a local law enforcement agency has probable cause that someone is a suspect of a crime and they have a photo of that person, a social media post may be used to help identify the individual. Despite not being able to use facial recognition services like Lumen, Daly said the process he refers to as ‘community facial recognition’ can be effective in identifying a suspect.
When looking to identify a suspect, several local law enforcement agencies have taken to Facebook and Instagram with a screengrab of a suspect and a caption asking if community members recognize the person for any reason. Daly also said that within the posts, community members are reminded that the individual is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Daly said the success of using facial recognition services in the past isn’t staggering, but he said the agency is working to get use approved so that Avon Police Department is equipped with another tool that could help bring justice to victims — regardless of the type of crime.
“We don’t differentiate that one is more important than others,” Daly said. “Yes, person crimes where there’s, you know, serious bodily injury or deaths are involved, they take some priority in investigation at that point in time. But every criminal complaint that comes to our attention is important.”
Daly hosted a public meeting regarding Avon Police Department’s request to use facial recognition services at the Aspens Mobile Home Park on Mar. 29. There, Daly said a woman approached him recounting how the Avon Police Department investigated rent money being stolen from her purse in Walmart. Daly said the woman shared that she was grateful the agency was able to resolve her case.
“Am I going to use facial recognition if I have a good photograph of that person taking money from that lady’s purse or rent money? You know, the last money in her life and send that in, or am I going to say, ‘No, only certain crimes?'” Daly said. “I don’t think that’s fair to my community. So, we are not making that differentiation.”
Per Senate Bill 22-113, the Avon Police Department is undergoing a process to garner community feedback and request of the Town Council to utilize facial recognition tools.
“One, be it good or bad, aspect of the senate bill was that all 300-plus law enforcement agencies in the state of Colorado have to individually go through this process,” Daly said. “Ultimately, it is localizing this process to each of the local entities. The downside is it is a lot of work. You know, especially for — we’re a small agency, but for very small agencies, that is a lot of work to go through.”
The process for gaining approval includes agencies submitting a notice of intent, which the Avon Police Department sent to Avon Mayor Amy Phillips and Town Council on March 14. Per Senate Bill 22-113, agencies are also required to allow for public review and comment online, hold a minimum of three public feedback meetings, and consider concerns brought forth by community members.
Upcoming public meetings will be held on April 14 at 11 a.m. at the Avon Public Library and on April 25 at 5 p.m. during the regular Avon Town Council meeting. Daly said that so far, he has received lots of questions from community members as well as overwhelming support. However, Daly also said any negative feedback will be taken into consideration by the department as it moves forward with its request to use facial recognition services.
Aside from public meetings, community members may also access a comment section on the Avon Police Department website where feedback can be submitted on the topic.