London’s Metropolitan Police revealed Thursday that officers are piloting contentious facial recognition technology to catch prolific shoplifters, as stores suffer increased thefts and violence by criminal gangs, addicts and others.
The UK’s biggest force said the trial of the emerging tech had shown it could revolutionise how they tackle an array of offences.
It follows police forces in Britain and beyond increasingly deploying facial recognition software, which civil rights campaigners argue is open to racial, gender and other biases.
The Met’s use of the tech to target shoplifters comes as UK businesses appeal for government and other help to tackle the fallout from a surge in theft and violence towards staff.
It has been blamed on the impact of the pandemic and Britain’s worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.
Shoplifting offences recorded by police in England and Wales have risen by a quarter in the past year, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released Thursday showed.
“We’re working with shops across the capital to target and track down criminals in a way we never have before,” Met commissioner Mark Rowley said in a statement announcing the facial recognition trial.
The Met asked a dozen retailers to provide images of 30 of the worst shoplifting offenders for the pilot, which began in August.
They were compared against the force’s own custody shots, and of 302 images submitted, 149 came up as positive matches.
The software uses biometric measures of an individual’s face and works even if part of their face is covered, taking around a minute to find a match.
Officers are now investigating further in the hope of building criminal cases against some of the suspects.
“The results we’ve seen so far are game-changing,” said the Met’s Rowley. “The use of facial recognition in this way could revolutionise how we investigate and solve crime.”
Rowley noted the scale of business crime in London is “huge” and that the trial had shown that “career criminals involved in serious crime” were involved in shoplifting.
He added the data and information used in facial recognition tech helps officers “focus our efforts in an even more precise way”.