When you want the public to trust your use of controversial facial recognition technology linked to two prominent wrongful arrests of Black men, it’s perhaps best not to claim you aren’t using it in the first place.
The Los Angeles Police Department was on the defensive Monday after a Los Angeles Times report found that, despite previous statements to the contrary, the LAPD does in fact use facial recognition tech — often, in fact. What’s more, the software in question, a product of South Carolina company DataWorks Plus, is itself no stranger to controversy.
According to the Times, over 300 LAPD officers have access to facial recognition software, and the department used it almost 30,000 times between November of 2009 and September of this year.
In 2019, LAPD spokesperson Josh Rubenstein painted a very different picture of his department’s relationship with facial recognition tech.
“We actually do not use facial recognition in the Department,” he told the Times. While the LAPD doesn’t have an in-house facial recognition program, reports the Times, it does “have access to facial-recognition software through a regional database maintained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”
Notably, studies have shown that facial recognition misidentifies the young, elderly, women, and people of color at rates higher than that of white men.
That information likely comes as no surprise to Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, who earlier this year was arrested and held for 30 hours after Detroit police accused him of shoplifting based (in part) on a facial recognition search. Michigan, reports the New York Times, had a $5.5 million contract with DataWorks Plus.
It also would likely not surprise Michael Oliver, a Detroit man who was charged in 2019 with a felony after facial-recognition tech, reports the Detroit Free Press, “identified Michael Oliver as an investigative lead.”
Oliver was plainly and obviously innocent.
In June, DataWorks Plus General Manager Todd Pastorini told Vice that his company’s software “does not bring back a single candidate,” but rather “hundreds.” He added that “[we] don’t tell our customers how to use the system.”
On its website, DataWorks Plus claims it “[provides] solutions to more than 1,000 agencies” in North America alone.
Presumably, one of those agencies is the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — an agency which, in turn, permitted the LAPD to use its facial recognition software while simultaneously claiming that the department itself didn’t use facial recognition.
“We aren’t trying to hide anything,” LAPD Assistant Chief Horace Frank told the LA Times.
Oh, thank goodness. Imagine if the LAPD was trying to hide something?