LAPD officers reportedly used facial recognition 30,000 times in the past decade, contradicting the department’s previous denials

The LAPD has repeatedly misled reporters and public records requesters about the extent to which it uses facial recognition technology. Robyn Beck/Getty Images
  • The Los Angeles Police Department has used facial recognition technology 29,817 times since 2009 and hundreds of officers have access to the software, according to records obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
  • The records contradict the LAPD’s repeated claims that it doesn’t use or have certain documents concerning its use of the technology.
  • “FRT has been a vital tool that has been utilised to assist in developing criminal leads. FRT does not identify suspects and FRT results alone do not determine who the police arrest,” LAPD spokesperson Josh Rubenstein told Business Insider.
  • The technology has become controversial in recent years amid growing evidence of racial and gender bias, and several cities have banned law enforcement from using it.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Los Angeles Police Department has on numerous occasions over the years downplayed its use of facial recognition technology, publicly claimed that the department doesn’t use it at all, and denied the existence of related documents that, if they exist, the public is legally entitled to see.

But new records obtained by the Los Angeles Times revealed that the department has used the technology widely for more than a decade: 29,817 times between November 6, 2009, and September 11 of this year — including 3,750 instances since February.

While the LAPD doesn’t have its own facial recognition software, 330 people within the department currently have access to the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System (LACRIS), a platform operated by LA county that relies on technology from DataWorks Plus, according to the LA Times.

The extent to which the LAPD uses facial recognition, according to these new records, contradicts what the department has said publicly, both when questioned by reporters and when asked to turn over documents via public records requests.

“FRT has been a vital tool that has been utilised to assist in developing criminal leads,” LAPD spokesperson Josh Rubenstein told Business Insider in a statement. “FRT does not identify suspects and FRT results alone do not determine who the police arrest.”

Yet records obtained by the LA Times showed that the department arrested one suspect in June after facial recognition software helped identify him, which reported that civil liberties advocates are troubled by the LAPD’s “long pattern of deception” on the topic.

“We actually do not use facial recognition in the Department,” Rubenstein told the LA Times in 2019, adding an exception of “a few limited instances” where outside agencies used it during joint investigations.

Rubenstein told Business Insider in a statement that he was referring at the time to a specific bill concerning the use of facial recognition in body cameras, and that he “was making the point that the LAPD does not utilise FRT in conjunction with body-worn video cameras, or video surveillance cameras for crowd scanning or crowd scanning purposes.”

However, according to the LA Times, Rubenstein “did not specify that distinction at the time, and the request for information from The Times had not specified body-camera usage.”

In a 2016 report, the Centre for Privacy and Technology found: “The Los Angeles Police Department has repeatedly announced new face recognition initiatives — including a ‘smart car’ equipped with face recognition and real-time face recognition cameras — yet the agency claimed to have ‘no records responsive’ to our document request.”

“The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) may have the most advanced face recognition system in the country — yet refused to comply with our public records request,” CPT concluded.

“The duty of law enforcement is to not only arrest perpetrators of crime, but more importantly to give the victims the opportunity for justice,” Rubenstein told Business Insider. “The LACRIS FRT system is one of the investigational tools that assists investigators in conducting thorough and competent investigations into criminal activity.”

But there is growing evidence that facial recognition itself may not be producing as thorough or competent results as its proponents claim.

Multiple studies have shown that the software and algorithms behind such systems, including the one used by the LAPD, are more likely to misidentify people based on their skin colour and gender, and at least one person has been wrongfully arrested after being misidentified.

In response to concerns about racial and gender bias as well as potential civil liberties violations that have come into focus during racial justice protests over the past several months, several cities including San Francisco,Oakland, and Boston have banned government agencies from using facial recognition. Portland, Oregon, recently went a step further in also banning private entities from using it in public spaces such as restaurants, convenience stores, and ridesharing vehicles.