A pilot program that has brought facial recognition technology to the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis began paying dividends within a few days of its installation.
The system’s designers say a man who had threatened a judge at the courthouse was, in March, detected through the use of the First Line facial recognition system, which was installed by Blue Line Security Solutions of St. Louis in February. The man was allowed into the building, but only while being escorted and monitored by security officers, to assure he posed no threat.
“That,” says St. Louis Major Joseph Spiess, one of the current and former law enforcement officers who formed Blue Line “was a pretty nice validation of the system.”
You don’t have to be a technology wonk to know that facial recognition is no longer the stuff of science fiction movies: it’s here and it’s being integrated into our lives rapidly. Some companies use it to target ads to consumers, and in the area of crime prevention, several states use it in driver’s license registries to prevent ID fraud. Other companies are looking at the technology to prevent credit card fraud.
Spiess and his colleagues believe they’ve found the niche that separates them from other companies working in the facial recognition space: employing the technology for security purposes at venues such as schools, courthouses, offices and daycare centers.
“A member of our team went to a trade show in Las Vegas recently and we discovered while there were a lot of different applications for the technology in law enforcement, what we’re doing is unique,” says Spiess.
What the First Line system does, says Spiess, is create a facial recognition safety net through the installation of high definition cameras and computer hardware and software. In cases where an organization wishes to bar a threatening individual – say a disgruntled former employee or a person who has threatened harm to an occupant of the building – that person’s photo is loaded into the system database. When that threatening person approaches the facility, cameras capture the data, and the system’s precision software can immediately make a match and notify predetermined key employees via email or through their cell phones.
The customer’s own security team takes over from there.
While keeping “the bad guys out” is a major component of the First Line technology, Spiess says focusing on “the good guys” can also be an integral part of system’s safety net. “In the case of a daycare center, for example, we can load the photos of every worker, child and parent or guardian who is authorized to visit the facility into the system,” says Spiess.
People who seek entrance, but whose photos aren’t loaded into the system, can be detained and questioned to determine whether they are a threat.
Spiess says First Line’s relatively small database and narrow focus should allay the concerns of anyone with privacy fears.
“We’re not looking to store hundreds of thousands of images in a database. Our system is specifically designed to only capture people you want to stop for security reasons, or in the case of a school or daycare, only those who have reason to be there.”
Spiess says because the database being searched is relatively small, the First Line system allows for an almost instantaneous match, and therefore, quick reactions to security problems.
First Line also offers an option that allows companies or multifamily residences to use facial recognition to augment their card entry systems, and an application for people clocking into work.
In May, Blue Line earned a $50,000 grant from the non-profit Arch Grants organization.
For the school, daycare center or office that loves the technology but believes it isn’t affordable, Spiess says that just isn’t the case. He says a First Line system can be purchased and installed for around $9,000, or leased for about $300 per month.
“Security for less than the cost of a Chevy,” says Spiess.