Picture this: an armed robbery at a convenience store in Burnaby, B.C. takes place with the assailant getting away scott-free. A video camera in the store captures an image of the suspect’s face, and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer arrives at the scene of the crime, digitally encodes the image of the suspect from the video and feeds it into a mobile unit mounted in the police cruiser.
Within 40 seconds, the robber is identified as a resident of Vancouver with two outstanding warrants and Canada’s finest spring into action, apprehending the wanted man.
Is this a scene out of a futuristic, sci-fi movie or reality? According to Vancouver-based Imagis Technologies, its software brings this futuristic scenario to fruition.
The Computerized Arrest and Booking System (CABS) software developed by Imagis, in conjunction with the RCMP, uses biometrics to measure 250 features of the human face and matches these points against an offender database to rapidly and accurately identify wanted individuals. To add credence to its mug-snatching prowess, CABS’ biometrics technology can also measure the pitches of the human voice, identify fingerprints and perform retina scans. To date, 30 RCMP detachments from B.C. to the Maritimes use CABS, with the Mounties’ Burnaby detachment earning the distinction of being the first to embrace the software six years ago.
“The RCMP came to us because they were having problems with booking arrested individuals who would not cooperate,” explained Iain Drummond, president and CEO of Imagis Technologies Inc. “The police take the facial image of that individual, and, using our software, match their image with the mugshots in their database.”
The program is proving to be a hit with law enforcement agencies and sales of CABS has recently expanded into the casino market.
“Very soon after the RCMP employed the system, we were approached by [Gateway Casino in Burnaby, B.C.] as they had a problem with gangs coming in and threatening their staff,” Drummond continued. “They use our software to identify people coming into the Casino through the front door. The great thing about that from a developer’s point of view is it gave us the opportunity to extend our software into a less-controlled environment. It meant we had to develop CABS to be a more flexible product.”
Imagis also intends to offer different flavours of CABS, including applications for general security initiatives such as access control, visa or passport authentication, airport security, drivers licence systems in the U.S., and credit and debit card verification.
Drummond said CABS is a useful tool to aid the police, but in an uncontrolled environment it has limitations.
“People can do various things to hide their faces,” he said. “The software doesn’t look at an individual’s hair for instance, it looks at the bone structure of the face and if its line of sight is obscured it’ll put more weight on areas it can see. But if someone is completely cloaked in a balaclava and sunglasses, we wouldn’t be able to identify him – it’s particularly difficult if the eyes are covered.”
Norm Inkster, president of Toronto-based KMPG Investigation and Security Inc. and a former Commissioner of the RCMP, said CABS is extremely beneficial to the police.
“The arresting and booking of an individual takes up a significant amount of time. This software lets you do all of that in a one-stop-shopping method,” Inkster explained. “It allows the police to get back on the street more quickly.”
From a policing perspective, Inkster – who served in the RCMP from 1957 to 1994 before retiring – said CABS will aid police not only in their efforts to bring the wayward to justice but also to fight the rising costs of policing in general.
“We did a time and motion study on CABS awhile back,” he said. “We found indeed that the software reduces the time involved and also the cost of processing an individual.”
The RCMP’s North Vancouver detachment adopted CABS in September 1997. Since then, Sandy Ferris, a civilian forensic identification technician, said the software has saved the North Shore Mounties a great deal of time and hassle.
“The information the software retrieves and the time in which it does so is simply invaluable,” Ferris said. “For instance, we had a John Doe (unidentified person) in custody and we ran his image through the system. Within 30 seconds we had him identified.”
Drummond also suggested that CABS’ methodology could protect innocent individuals from being fingered for crimes they did not commit in addition to providing extra security measures for the general public.
“Suppose you’re standing at an ATM and I’m standing behind you and I see what your PIN code is,” he said. “If I steal your debit card I could clean your bank account out. By using the cameras in the ATM, we can concisely identify who the real owner of that debit card is. [CABS] can protect you.”
Added Inkster, “CABS is applicable in any security environment such as immigration, corrections, or anything similar.”