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Scotland Yard to use facial recognition tech to nab shoplifters in UK

London: Scotland Yard on Thursday announced plans to use innovative facial recognition technology to identify London’s most prolific retail offenders and shoplifters.

The city’s Metropolitan Police force said retail crime is responsible for the loss of an estimated 1.9 billion pounds in revenue in London each year and that alongside financial harm, more than 1,000 cases of abuse and violence against staff are reported annually.

With one in 10 Londoners working in retail, the force said it was important to tackle the issue head-on with an innovative approach.

“We’re working with shops across the capital to target and track down criminals in a way we never have before,” said Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who has been meeting with retail industry leaders to discuss ways to increase the safety of frontline staff and reduce prolific offending.

“We’re pushing the boundaries and using innovation and technology to rapidly identify criminals. The results we’ve seen so far are game-changing. The use of facial recognition in this way could revolutionise how we investigate and solve crime,” he said.

The Met Police chief said that the force had learnt a lot about those involved in this offending so far with the use of the new tech and it’s become clear that the majority are career criminals involved in serious crime.

“This data and information helps us focus our efforts in an even more precise way than we originally anticipated. Through this tactic we’re not only improving how we protect shops and support the business community, we’re stepping further forward in identifying and tracking down serious criminals and protecting all of London’s communities,” he said.

“The scale of business crime in London is huge. To be successful we have to be precise in our approach and this is a really promising step forward,” he added.

A new joint protocol unveiled as part of the crackdown will see the police joining forces with retailers to focus combined efforts on targeting those causing the most harm.

At the end of September, the Met Police said it wrote to 12 leading London retailers asking them to send CCTV images of their top 30 prolific, but unidentified, offenders.

A specialist team at the force is now using facial recognition technology that maps facial features from the CCTV stills against images in the custody image database at a rapid pace, with any matches revealed in around 60 seconds. Within a matter of days, 149 suspects had been identified from 302 CCTV stills, with some suspects wanted for more than one offence.

The Met Police said that local officers will now work with the stores to build a case and track the suspects down.

“This initiative is the latest example of how we’re taking a precise and technology-led approach to tackling the crimes that are impacting communities. Earlier this year, we announced a targeted approach to tracking the most dangerous and predatory offenders of violence against women and girls (VAWG),” the Met Police said.

“This approach has allowed us to target our tactics against those causing the most harm to Londoners. We’re now exploring how we apply the principles behind this not just against VAWG and retail crime, but against all sorts of crime types,” it added.

Every suspect that matched on the Met Police’s system has previously been arrested and taken into custody for crimes, including drug possession and supply, sexual offences, burglary, violence, firearms possession and more.

(Published 19 October 2023, 10:36 IST)

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