Facial Recognition Technology

An Open Letter from Sheriff Pat Garrett

Advancements in technology continually provide law enforcement with new opportunities to promote public safety. We once relied on most wanted posters and law enforcement bulletins to track down wanted criminals. Then in the early 2000s, we launched a Can You ID Me? website so the public could help directly identify suspects and, in 2017, we piloted a facial recognition program to assist investigators in identifying suspects in criminal cases.
We recognize new technologies can raise potential privacy concerns. We also understand these concerns can oftentimes be magnified by a lack of understanding of how the technology is being utilized; therefore, we are committed to ongoing transparency in regards to this program.
As previously stated, our facial recognition program assists in providing potential leads while conducting criminal investigations. Two examples of how we partner with our community to help identify suspects, include:
  • A suspect caught on camera stealing from a local business
  • Cell phone photo snapped by a victim of their assailant
Our investigators then take that video or photo collected during a criminal investigation, and use facial recognition technology to compare it against our Washington County Jail booking photos for possible leads.
Notably, and per policy, investigators are not permitted to take enforcement action based solely on a potential identification lead. As with any criminal case, and in line with existing best practices, investigators are required to independently verify a suspect and corroborate any additional information.
I encourage you to review our FAQ below and policy to further clarify any questions you might have. The FAQ also provides a list of media coverage and community outreach regarding our facial recognition program. If you have any questions regarding the program, please reach out to us. We will update the FAQ to answer any questions we receive moving forward.
Sheriff Garrett Signature

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Sheriff’s Office use facial recognition for mass surveillance?
No, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office does not utilize facial recognition technology for mass surveillance, in fact there is written policy specifically prohibiting such use.
What photos do you use when running an image for facial recognition?
We only use booking photos from our Jail dating back to 2001, which are public record.
What is the history of the program?
With the increased use of video technology and smartphones by businesses and individuals, the need for law enforcement to identify unknown suspects caught on camera committing crimes has grown.
Historically, this process was time-intensive and often inefficient. An investigator would create a bulletin and distribute it amongst their agency. Depending on the era, a fax or email bulletin was sent to surrounding law enforcement agencies and jail staff as well, in hopes that someone might recognize the suspect.
In the mid-2000s, the Sheriff’s Office launched their Can You ID Me? page, which allowed the public to view photos of suspects engaging in criminal activity and submit possible tips. The page proved to be a valuable tool to solve cases, and was modeled by numerous law enforcement agencies.
Fast forward to 2016, when personnel with the Sheriff’s Office information technology workgroup learned of an image analysis tool announced by Amazon Web Services. Information Technology (IT) staff saw an opportunity to apply this technology to assist in accomplishing the same mission. Knowing the need to more quickly and efficiently identify criminal suspects, our IT was able to develop a facial recognition tool for investigators to compare unidentified suspects against our own jail booking photos.
While this program is still in its infancy, the tool proved to be successful in assisting investigators in identifying suspects caught on camera. Around that same time, our IT staff started presenting on what they had built at various technology conferences, and other agencies began using the technology in the same manner.
Facial Recognition became available to all Sheriff’s Office investigators to use in October of 2017, and new criminal cases continue to be solved thanks to facial recognition technology.
What happens to the data collected?
All data collected is kept secure and only retained locally on Sheriff’s Office servers. No photos or videos are ever sent to the servers of private companies. Data gets uploaded for comparison, but not the actual media or any information that would enable those images to be replicated. No identifying or personal information is ever stored or uploaded with the photo/video data.
Have you publicized your use of facial recognition?
We have been open about our use of this technology. We have participated in stories with local television stations and a law enforcement technology publication. Those stories are publicly available, and have been shared on our social media platforms. Between our Facebook and Twitter accounts alone, stories on our use of facial recognition technology have been seen 25,000 times. This does not include TV or web viewership from the respective local TV stations. We have also publicized our use of this technology through our Sheriff’s Office monthly e-newsletter, which has a subscriber base of over 40,000.
What are your thoughts on the recently published facial recognition tests?
We have concerns regarding the methodology of some tests which mischaracterize how we actually use this technology. No information has been published about the dataset that was used to run such tests. Some tests incorrectly imply investigators aren’t involved in a human review of the leads returned. Finally, these tests are conducted with the identity of the faces used already known, which is the opposite starting point for our use of the technology to help solve crimes.
Does the government regulate facial recognition programs and law enforcement?
Being an early adopter of facial recognition technology, we are committed to building best practices and being a leader in public safety. To that end, our staff met with congressional staff and several Oregon legislative representatives to discuss and improve our policy, and we look forward to meeting with other stakeholders on this topic. We remain committed to an open dialogue to address any concerns, policy questions, and build the model for a strong program that embraces new technologies to enhance public safety while still respecting the privacy of our community.
How do you ensure the system is used appropriately?
The Sheriff’s Office regulates use of the technology through written policy, user training, and an annual audit. At a minimum, the audit will review policy compliance by users, a review of complaints involving facial recognition, and recommendations for training, policy, or program improvement.
Read more about the facial recognition policy.