NY Cops Use Face Recognition on Facebook & Instagram to Nab Crooks

Published:7:35 pm EDT, March 29, 2013| Updated:1:47 am EDT, March 30, 2013|
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Socializing online is putting criminals behind bars. The NYPD is stepping into the social media craze — locating criminals by finding photos on Instagram and Facebook and running them through face-recognition software.

This futuristic technology manages to marry mugshots of known criminals with pictures found on the Internet. So next time you Instagram- and Facebook-using criminals post a bathroom selfie or a shot of yourself posing with your eggs benedict at brunch, beware ... it may lead to your arrest.

Facial recognition — which keys in on features and analyzes size and shape of eyes, noses, cheekbones and jaws to find a match — is now revolutionizing investigations in ways not seen since fingerprint analysis was implemented years ago.

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“It is the one time something you see on a television show is actually working in the real world,” one top police official told DNAinfo. He went from skeptic to fan of the new technology.

The official explained how the face-recognition technology helped crack a recent street robbery case in which a woman reported her jewelry stolen by a friend's boyfriend. Although she didn't know his name, she led the police to photos on his girlfriends Facebook page.

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“We did not have his name, but we found a photo and the Facial Recognition Unit got a hit,” the NYPD official said. “It saved a ton of time and potentially dangerous investigative legwork.”

This technology also works with images taken by surveillance cameras and anywhere else cops can find images. Another example of this technology being effectively used is a recent case involving various cabbies in the Bronx being held a gunpoint by a 50- to 55-year-old male. During one of the heists a camera on the dashboard of a victims car snapped a shot of the gun-wielding suspect.

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The NYPD's Facial Recognition Unit used this photo to catch Alan Marrero

The cops ran the photo through their face-recognition and compared it to the mugshot database, which brought them to a possible match: Alan Marrero, an ex-con with a long history of criminal activity.

Facial recognition is not foolproof, as it works best when photos are high quality. Sometimes surveillance shots aren't sufficiently clear for the technology to get an accurate hit. But since posting photos is widespread on social networks, police have been particularly grateful to sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Even criminals like a nice profile pic.

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