Detroit police reveal how its facial recognition software works

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Detroit Police Chief James Craig gave police commissioners and the media a closer look at the controversial tool of facial recognition - and how it's used to solve crimes.

"The perception is this software does all the work for you," Craig said. "And as you can see - not even close.

"It's really beyond facial recognition - it can never be the software - it has to be the investigator - our analyst that goes through the rigorous methodical look."

The analyst compares surveillance video with photos, and mugshots, and looks into social media - trying to find a match - but it's not enough for an arrest.

"This is a lead only," Craig said.

Investigators are still working the streets, interviewing witnesses this week after releasing a photo of 22-year-old Daveavion Dawson. He is wanted for shooting and injuring another man on Van Dyke on the city's east side over Thanksgiving weekend.

Police say the computer system matched surveillance video of Dawson with more than 170 images - most were not him.

"If we as a department just relied on the computer to do the work - we'd probably have 100 percent mismatches," Craig said.

Instead the chief says an analyst painstakingly evaluates every image - in this case determining Dawson’s prior mugshots matched the surveillance photo... then the analyst went on social media - finding photos of Dawson in the same sweatshirt and sitting on the same type of car used in the crime.

"What makes this work for our department is the level of rigor - the methodical look," Craig said.

Craig cited another recent case where three people from the LGBTQ community were shot and killed at a party on the east side. 

The chief says the shooter wore a mask - but he had met the victims earlier at a green light gas station location where they were able to get an image and a match - identifying the shooter - but it wasn't enough to make an arrest.

"Even though we felt we had the match - there was still the witnesses who were alive to actually make the identification off a line-up, Craig said.

The chief is well aware people are worried about the use of facial recognition - an issue so heated a police commissioner ended up in handcuffs at a recent meeting.

"And I understand the concerns," he said.

Research shows persons of color are more likely to be misidentified - the chief says he doesn't disagree - but they are working to make sure that doesn't happen - and say it hasn't happened yet.

DPD Commissioner Willie Bell - says he's taking what he's learned to his fellow commissioners - and wants to share it with the public

"As a layperson - as a former officer - it's one thing to talk about it here," Bell said. "But here you actually see what's involved and how serious they are."

"We have taken a giant leap," Bell said. this really protects everybody in trying to deal with the system of crime so I'm impressed.