How the Police Use Facial Recognition, and Where It Falls Short

After a high-speed chase north of Orlando, Fla., sheriff’s deputies punctured the tires of a stolen Dodge Magnum and brought it to a stop. They arrested the driver, but couldn’t determine who he was. The man had no identification card. He passed out after stuffing something into his mouth. And his fingerprints, the deputies reported, appeared to have been chewed off.

So investigators turned to one of the oldest and largest facial recognition systems in the country: a statewide program based in Pinellas County, Fla., that began almost 20 years ago, when law enforcement agencies were just starting to use the technology. Officers ran a photo of the man through a huge database, found a likely match and marked the 2017 case as one of the system’s more than 400 successful “outcomes” since 2014.

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