One afternoon last August, Cynthia Espinoza, a senior office specialist at the Anaheim PD, was relaxing at home when her husband, who was watching TV, asked her to come check out a news item.
The Arcadia PD was looking for a man suspected of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl.
When a sketch of the suspect flashed on the screen, Espinoza took a photo of it.
Espinoza sent the picture to her work email and uploaded it to a new software program she and another Anaheim PD employee, civilian Inv. Lucy Hernandez, had been in the process of beta testing since March 2018.
The program, IDentify, a product of Costa Mesa-based Veritone Inc., uses artificial intelligence to compare video and photographic evidence with a PD’s known-offender and person of interest records, as well as BOLO (Be On the Lookout) alerts.
Espinoza wasn’t sure a sketch would work.
But IDentify came up with about 200 possible matches of suspects who previously had been arrested and their booking photos taken in Anaheim.
Espinoza emailed the possible matches to an Arcadia PD detective, who was able to identify and arrest a suspect the following day.
Espinoza and Hernandez, selected by APD officials to team up and test the software, say IDentify can dramatically speed up the investigative process.
Manually comparing crime scene photos or video evidence to existing arrest records to identify potential suspects is very labor intensive. With IDentify, a process that by hand can take weeks can be done within minutes, Hernandez and Espinoza say.
“It’s a great new tool our investigators can take advantage of,” Hernandez says.
“I’m telling you,” adds Espinoza, “this is the future.”
Nearly 20 law enforcement agencies across the country now are using IDentify software, which was introduced in September 2018, says Chad Steelberg, chief executive officer of Veritone.
“IDentify uses facial recognition technology to cull through (booking photo) images in seconds, giving the investigator potential matches, together with a confidence score on the accuracy of the match,” Steelberg explains.
“IDentify provides investigatory leads, not positive identification,” he adds. “The investigator then uses other information and traditional investigatory techniques to determine the suspect’s identity and whether probable cause exists for further investigation or arrest.”
Espinoza, who works in the APD’s Homicide Detail, and Hernandez, a civilian investigator on the APD’s Gang Suppression Detail, now spends a considerable amount a time running pictures and surveillance video through the software program, which is powered by Veritone’s aiWARE artificial intelligence operating system.
They then forward “hits” of possible matches in the APD’s existing records to investigators, who then try to determine if they have a solid ID.
Hernandez pulls up a video on her computer to show how IDentify works.
The footage shows a booze-fueled brawl erupting less than an hour before closing time on Jan. 27, 2019 at the Lemon Twist, a since-closed dive bar in a strip mall on Ball Road.
A half-dozen patrons involved in the melee trash the joint by hurling chairs and bottles. Hernandez zooms in on the faces of the trashed troublemakers.
Espinoza and Hernandez rattled off several successful success stories concerning Veritone IDentify, many involving other O.C. law enforcement agencies.
The software helped investigators at the Santa Ana PD arrest a female suspect, a habitual drug user, accused of assaulting a security officer on Feb. 21, 2019. The SAPD also quickly made an arrest of a suspect in a Jan. 30, 2019 carjacking thanks to the software, Espinoza and Hernandez said.
“The Santa Ana Police Department continues to evaluate technologies that will enhance our ability to better serve our residents,” SAPD Cpl. Anthony Bertagna says. “The use of technology like Veritone’s IDentify allows law enforcement to enhance investigative efforts and we look forward to our continued evaluation of this emerging technology. The Santa Ana Police Department’s partnership with Anaheim Police Department continues to pay dividends.”
The software helped investigators at the Orange PD identify a man who held up a 7-Eleven, a crime in which two people were stabbed.
Steelberg projects that Veritone IDentify will become more ubiquitous in law enforcement.
“We have quite a bit of interest,” he says of potential new clients. “One thing that is certain: More and more video devices like commercial security systems, home security systems, mobile phones, and body cams are being introduced every day, making the probability of a crime being captured on video (or in photos) more and more likely.
“The sheer volume of footage to review will necessitate AI-based applications like IDentify to be leveraged to help investigators quickly find those ‘needles in the haystack.’”
Lt. Curtis Faulkner, the APD’s Crimes Persons Section commander, agrees IDentify is a great tool that provides a shortcut for investigators to determine who a suspect might be. He praised Espinoza and Hernandez for putting in the time to get the software working just the way the APD wants it to work.
“The time, effort, and enthusiasm they showed certainly made the program what it is,” Faulkner said.
To those who believe law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology is crossing the line into invasion of privacy or “Big Brotherhood,” Sgt. Daron Wyatt, APD’s Public Information Officer, had this to say:
“The public needs to understand that we are using facial recognition technology in a very limited scope. We are only taking pictures, video, sketches, etc. that are captured of suspects at crime scenes and comparing those images to photographs of known offenders who have already been arrested and booked. Those booking photographs are public record by law. If you haven’t been arrested and haven’t committed a new crime, you have nothing to fear.”