“These will build trust, but until that trust is built everything will be suspect,” said David W. Ferrell, Commissioner for Technology and Innovation.
The Commission has no direct power to regulate the use of facial recognition software by the police, but it is in the initial stages make a recommendation about how and when the city should allow their use.
Two commissioners on a subcommittee have been investigating facial recognition since earlier this year when the city sought advice on this and other emerging police technologies, particularly how they could disproportionately affect black residents and other colored people.
Ultimately, the subcommittee recommended following the example of more than a dozen local governments that have already banned the use of facial recognition by municipalities. At the Wednesday meeting, the commissioners started discussing the issue as a group and decided to schedule another study meeting for next month.
During the public comment segment of the meeting, Black Lives Matter organizer Audrena Redmond urged the commission to speed up a proposed ban and put in place a process to monitor and regulate the LBPD’s use of facial recognition.
“We have no police supervision in this city,” she said. “And yet, why should we entrust them with a tool that criminalizes people, that criminalizes black faces in particular, because the technology has difficulty recognizing black faces?”
LBPD Assistant Chief Wally Hebeish defended the department’s limited use of facial recognition software.
“It is important to note that our focus is on the victims of crime, and particularly violent crime,” he said. “And if we use a system lawfully and ethically, we will use it to put an end to the families and victims of these crimes.”
Long Beach police officers only use facial recognition software to generate clues in criminal investigations, Hebeish said. When detectives have a photo or footage of someone they want to identify, they can compare it to a digital database of approximately 9 million booking photos maintained by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Even if the software does generate potential matches, detectives must otherwise confirm the person’s identity before making an arrest or prosecution, the deputy chief said.
“This really uses technology to create a digital environment and make investigations a lot more efficient,” Hebeish said, “but not for the purpose of randomly monitoring or scanning crowds and capturing videos and images of the public in case it was a crime to be committed later. “
Commissioner Parisa Vinzant asked why the ministry current policy says the LBPD “may choose to incorporate the use of facial recognition technology into their video surveillance for public safety,” which it said left the door to “mass surveillance concerns” open.
Hebeish said the department is still in the process of developing a permanent policy but that specific provision is being removed.
Still, Vinzant said she is also in favor of banning facial recognition technology due to privacy, bias and civil liberties issues. Despite these unresolved concerns, the ministry has already unilaterally decided to use the technology “without the knowledge or influence of the public”.