Protests over police violence against Black communities have put enforcement methods in the spotlight over the past several months. One questionable tool is facial recognition technology to identify suspects involved in crimes.
While several states and major cities have banned the use of this technology, hundreds of law enforcement agencies across Florida continue to utilize these systems, including Fort Myers and Tampa police and sheriff’s departments.
New Jersey case illustrates the inaccuracy of facial recognition
A New Jersey man filed suit against a local police department after being misidentified by facial recognition technology in a shoplifting case. Nijeer Parks, a Black man, became aware that police had a warrant for his arrest after the 2019 incident. When he went to the Woodbridge Police Department to clear his name, he was arrested, handcuffed and placed in jail for 10 days.
Parks stated he had never set foot in Woodbridge before visiting the police station. He fought the charges and eventually had them dismissed. His attorney learned the only evidence prosecutors had was provided through facial recognition software. His case is alarmingly similar to others across the country.
The technology often makes errors over skin tone
Criminal defense experts say facial recognition exhibits a racial bias, and mistaken identity cases frequently occur when suspects have nonwhite skin tones. Critics say it not only threatens citizens’ privacy but physically threatens the safety of Black Americans and other minorities.
Parks’ lawsuit against the City of Woodbridge accuses police of using excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment and false imprisonment. He also seeks compensation for emotional and physical suffering. About a year after the incident, New Jersey’s attorney general ordered police to stop using the technology.
Florida police continue use of facial recognition systems
Despite these well-documented problems with the technology, Florida law enforcement agencies continue to use facial recognition. The Pinellas County sheriff is on record saying he will not change his policy over its use unless new regulations are put in place.
More than 275 law enforcement agencies, including the Fort Myers Police Department, use the Face Analysis Comparison & Examination System (FACES), maintained by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The system allows investigators access to driver’s license and mugshot photos for more than 25 million Floridians.