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Meet the Super Recognisers – people and technology fighting crime together

by Steve Norris: Managing Partner, Criminal Justice and Emergency Services Practice

If I asked if you’re familiar with the work of the Super Recognisers, you might think I was talking about the latest super hero team. Well these guys and girls don’t wear capes or their pants outside their trousers, but they do happen to have a power most of us lack. That’s the ability to recognise people’s faces from CCTV footage, and then match them quickly to thousands of suspected or known criminals.

The unit was set up in May 2015 and shows just what can be done when you match public sector dedication and skills with cutting-edge technology. The impact has been remarkable. The Super Recognisers can identify individuals among even the most crowded or unclear environments (like a rainy night-time scene), while the technology gives them access to real-time activities and the ability to zoom in on the smallest of details. At a Pharrell Williams concert at the O2 last year, one of the team spotted five suspected thieves in the crowd, who were then rounded up by police. There were no crimes at the concert that night, which is almost unprecedented.

So, how do they do it? The team’s section head told us that some people just have an ability to recognise faces within seconds of seeing an image, and can then associate it to a database of individuals they’ve previously seen. While others take a far more methodical approach, concentrating on facial features that don’t change. He didn’t want to give away their secrets too much, but also pointed to the fact that technology is certainly speeding the process up. The team can work in real time and don’t have to wait for the footage to be developed before they get to work.

Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe recently commended the unit on its work, and neighbouring police services are increasingly asking for its assistance. Paul and the team can mobilise within minutes of a request, and have successfully resolved some high-profile cases.

The Super Recognisers are developing a range of techniques to keep them a step ahead of the criminals, and there are many ways that we can use technology to further improve the service they provide. Integrating footage from street cameras, shops, restaurants and venues into a nationwide system is one idea, as is putting this content onto the Police National Database and making it accessible via handheld devices.

My team is exploring ideas like these every day, and in future blogs I’ll hope to cover them in more detail.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss further how ICT can empower the service you give, do feel free to contact me directly on 07802 280287.

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