Leadership In Law Enforcement Technology – Responsible Use of Facial Recognition

 

Using technology to make us safer is smart. Pioneering the responsible use of that technology makes us a leader.

At the Sheriff’s Office we use technology to make our communities safer every day. We developed technology that provides timely arrest warrant information and other crime-related data to law enforcement officers at agencies across the county, helps detectives and Patrol deputies solve crime, and enables the display of important information in key areas in Jail and Records. It allows Jail deputies to log rounds in real time and in a manner which increases safety. Body camera technology improves evidence gathering, enhances safety, and increases transparency. We have been a leader in GPS-tracking technology to catch thieves who steal packages, cars, bicycles and more. We are also leaders in the responsible use of facial recognition technology.

It’s been stated that our Office was the first law enforcement agency to use facial recognition technology. This is not accurate. The truth is that the Sheriff’s Office did not use facial recognition until October 2017 when it was made available to investigators. A year earlier, in October 2016 the Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology published an article citing 25 police agencies that used the technology, pre-dating our use. But while we were not one of the first agencies to use the technology, we do lead in developing model policy and responsible use of the technology to solve criminal cases.

So how did we become a leader in the responsible use of facial recognition technology?

As businesses and individuals increasingly used video technology and smart phones to capture suspects’ images, law enforcement had a corresponding opportunity and obligation to identify the unknown suspects caught on camera. Historically, this process was time-intensive and inefficient. An investigator would often create a bulletin and distribute it throughout their agency. Depending on the era, they would send it by fax or email to surrounding law enforcement agencies and jail staff as well, in hopes that someone might recognize the suspect.

In the mid-2000s, the Sheriff’s Office launched a “Can-You-ID Me?” page that allowed the public to view photos of suspects engaging in criminal activity and submit possible tips. The page proved to be a valuable tool to solve cases, and many law enforcement agencies followed suit. .

Fast forward to 2016, when personnel with the Sheriff’s Office Information Technology (IT) workgroup learned of a technology product announced by Amazon Web Services. The IT workgroup saw an opportunity to apply portions of this technology to assist in accomplishing the same mission as the “Can-You-ID Me?” page. Knowing the need to more quickly and efficiently identify criminal suspects, our IT developed a method to compare unidentified criminal suspects’ faces to Washington County booking photos. This quickly proved to be successful in assisting them in identifying suspects caught on camera.

We also understand that new technologies can raise new concerns for the public – which we share – including its appropriate and responsible use and potential for privacy violations.

We have worked hard to establish the policy (linked above) that guides our responsible use of facial recognition technology. Along the way we’ve consulted and collaborated with law-makers (Sen. Wyden’s staff) and local stakeholders for feedback that we’ve used to improve our policy and protocols.

Notably, our policy is clear that a facial recognition search alone is not probable cause to arrest or seize any person. Results of using the technology are only potential leads that require follow-up investigation, such as verification of the person’s true identity and evaluation of other information and facts. Sometimes such corroboration gets achieved through public social media sites (for example, the suspect’s clothing on social media matches what they wore during the crime).

Other important points:

  • We do not use the technology for mass surveillance. Policy specifically prohibits such use.
  • We only compare criminal suspect photos with Jail booking photos dating back to 2001, which are public record.
  • Criminal suspect photos not resulting in a criminal case are purged after one year. This timeline is consistent with Oregon retention requirements and ensures all data is available for our annual audit of this technology’s use.
  • All data collected is kept secure and only retained locally on Sheriff’s Office servers. No photos or videos are ever sent to the servers of private companies. Neither are they ever sent to law enforcement agencies based outside of Washington County.

In addition, we have been very transparent about this program. We’ve invited local television stations and a law enforcement technology publication to cover it. Between Facebook and Twitter accounts alone, stories on our use of facial recognition technology were seen 25,000 times. This does not include TV or web viewership of local TV stations’ broadcasts. These are some examples:

Using Facial Recognition to Fight Crime, KGW-TV  Shared to Facebook (3.5K views) and Twitter (6.4K views)

Local deputies using facial recognition software to fight crime, KPTV-TV  Shared to Facebook (4.2K views) and Twitter (4.2K views)

Washington County, Ore., Adds Facial Recognition to Suite of Investigative Tools, Government Technology News  Shared to Facebook (3.9K views) and Twitter (3.3K views)

March 2018 Monthly Newsletter, WCSO  Subscriber base of approximately 40,000

And while I believe we’ve developed a strong policy for the responsible use of facial recognition technology, I also strongly advocate our Oregon legislature establish a multi-disciplinary workgroup to determine limits on its use by law enforcement. I look forward to being part of that discussion, sharing our experience, and continuing to learn. In the meantime, we remain focused on being leaders in the responsible use of law enforcement technology as an important way to make our community safer.

Pat

Campaign Fundraising

 

I think we can all agree that campaign fundraising has never been a celebrated part of our political process. As an elected official, I’ve raised funds to support levies for public safety and library services, as well as for my own campaigns. Campaign fundraising is critical to helping me get my message out to voters and best communicate my priorities and values.

The cost of local elections in a county the size of Washington County can be quite high. Last year, campaign costs for each candidate in the District Attorney’s contest were well over $200,000. People with political savvy tell me the sheriff’s campaign could easily reach $100,000.

Planning for these campaign costs means allowing and soliciting financial support while continuing to remain separated from roles which constitute a conflict of interest. I’m honored by individuals and organizations who want to help because they know me, or know the terrific work our Sheriff’s Office team accomplishes every day under my leadership.

I invite you to help me share with residents of Washington County my vision to continue a strong and respectful public safety system. You can donate here, as well as let me know of other ways you are willing to help.

Thank you; I am enormously grateful to and honored by all who support me.

Pat

Police Policy Committee and Brady v. Maryland

 

Accountability in law enforcement helps bond the agency to the public they serve. That accountability is promoted and achieved on several levels, including Oregon State licensing for officers through Oregon’s Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST), enforcement of agency policies, and determinations by the District Attorney that an officer’s credibility issues make the officer unsuitable for use as a witness in criminal cases.

I recently completed four years serving on the Police Policy Committee for DPSST. DPSST’s mission is to promote excellence in public safety by delivering quality training and developing and upholding professional standards. The Police Policy Committee supports the latter part of DPSST’s mission in misconduct cases before the Committee – upholding professional standards by deciding whether the law enforcement officer can remain certified in Oregon.

The committee reviews police misconduct cases and recommends to the DPSST Board whether to deny, suspend, or revoke state certification to be a law enforcement officer. The 16-member Committee is comprised of a mix of law enforcement agency management, non-management and community members. DPSST conducts an application process to fill vacancies, and members serve up to four years.

 

 

With DPSST Board Chair Patricia Patrick-Joling and Police Policy Committee Chair, Police Chief John Teague (August 15, 2019)

 

 

Minnesota’s Star Tribune credited the Police Policy Committee with earning DPSST “national recognition for holding law enforcement officers accountable”. We are proud that Oregon’s accountability system and the Committee’s work is considered a model for other states.

Recommendations by the committee to revoke a law enforcement officer’s certification require a finding that the conduct constitutes a lack of moral fitness. Moral fitness includes four categories: 1) dishonesty, 2) disregard for the rights of others, 3) misuse of authority, and 4) gross misconduct (deliberate disregard for the law, or threats to person, property or efficient agency operations). In making a decision, the Committee also considers circumstances, both mitigating (the totality of the person’s service and personal situation) and aggravating (factors that make the conduct more serious), as well as whether or not it’s the first time they’ve been before the Committee and other relevant factors.

The seriousness with which everyone on the Committee fulfills their responsibility to ensure Oregon police officers are held to a high standard was enlightening. Preparing for each quarterly meeting varied, but at times could take several days because some cases contained reams of reports and documents to read and assess. There’s no doubt Committee members understand their work is an important part in maintaining police accountability and public confidence in Oregon’s law enforcement profession. Committee members engage in valuable, insightful discussion, ask good questions of DPSST staff, and depending on the case vigorously deliberate before a vote.

After reviewing hundreds of cases from agencies across the state, I can confidently tell you our Sheriff’s Office accountability process is appropriate and effective. A good system includes components to best ensure fairness and accountability, and recognizes that the process is stressful for everyone involved. These components are all part of the “just cause” standard that includes rules and policies that are fair and fairly applied, an impartial and detailed investigation and report, facts that are established by convincing evidence, and mitigating and aggravating factors. I can say with equal confidence the professionals at your sheriff’s office set high ethical standards for themselves and are part of the accountability system that ensures those standards are met.

There is another accountability system that can impose serious consequence on officers who are found to have been untruthful or dishonest. The District Attorney (DA) can determine that an officer’s credibility is so impaired by a finding of untruthfulness or dishonesty that the officer will not be used as a witness in any criminal case, or that the DA must notify all criminal defendants of the circumstances of the officer’s misconduct so that the defendant can raise it at trial when the officer testifies. Officers determined to have serious honesty and credibility issues by the DA are often referred to as being put on the “Brady list”. This is based upon a case called Brady v. Maryland in which the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors must turn over all evidence that might exonerate a defendant, to include evidence about an officer favorable to the defense. In some cases, the DA may choose not to use the officer in question as a witness in any criminal case because they are simply not credible enough for the jury to believe. Because of the official finding that the officer’s credibility is impaired, this can also have significant consequences in any civil cases where the officer is called as a witness.

Police Policy Committee

Over the last four years I learned a lot from my Committee colleagues about Oregon’s accountability process, as well as gained important perspective on our local processes. I wish the Committee the very best as they continue to serve Washington County and communities across Oregon!

Pat