Friday, February 11, 2011

Facial Comparisons and identification

I get numerous requests to make "identifications" of individuals depicted in CCTV footage. In terms of managing expectations, I try to explain just what it takes to "identify" someone - getting into the difference between "recognize" and "identify."

I've got an excellent reference source on my shelf to help with explanations and I thought that I'd pass it along. Here's a quote from the introduction:

"... law enforcement and intelligence agencies have many more opportunities to acquire and analyze images that depict persons of interest, whether they may be suspects of a crime, witnesses, or victims. In most cases, such images are used for investigative or recognition purposes, wherein an investigator or witness will look at a photograph and because of a prior association or familiarity with the subject , "recognize" the individual and thus be able to "identify" them. In some cases, however, the identity of the individual depicted in an image is subjected to debate. In these cases, analysis by an expert may be necessary to either confirm or exclude a specific individual as being the subject depicted in an image."

What does this mean? If you are capturing images, cleaning them up, putting them on a BOLO poster, then printing/distributing them ... you aren't involved in forming an opinion as to who's in the picture. The investigators take the product of your work and use it to work towards identification of the person in question by others. In this case, your testimony wouldn't include opinions as to the identity of the person in question - just about your process with the footage and subsequent images.

Facial Comparison is quite a different matter all together. If you are interested in getting to the world of opinion based work, I would suggest the book quoted above, Computer-Aided Forensic Facial Comparison, Editors: Martin Paul Evison from the University of Toronto, and Richard W. Vorder Bruegge from the FBI. I would also recommend getting in touch with the SWG that covers this area, FISWG.

With more people looking to get into this line of work, it's important to realize that a large part of what we do is not done with an Adobe product. Just because one is a photographer or an artist does not automatically make one capable of forming and supporting an opinion on facial identification. FISWG saw this recently and said the following in a letter to the IAI, "It is an unfortunate fact that some individuals who testify as experts may occasionally cite a given certification as proof of their expertise in a different, but associated, discipline. The IAI Forensic Art and Forensic Photography certifications relate to disciplines that are associated with, but differ from, the discipline of Facial Comparison. FISWG is concerned that the potential exists for the courts to incorrectly interpret a certification in one of these disciplines to confer certification in the discipline of Facial Comparison. To offer oneself as certified in the discipline of Facial Comparison based upon any current IAI certification would be a misrepresentation."

In the same way, having a certification from a group like ASIS as security professional or an alarm installer doesn't qualify one to work in this area. Having training and experience in this area qualifies one to work in this area. Most professional organizations warn against the ethical violation of working outside of one's expertise.

So ... if you want to get into facial comparison work, or you just want to help your ability to explain your work during testimony, Computer-Aided Forensic Facial Comparison is well worth the price.

Enjoy.

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