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DeWitt Township police will have access to facial recognition software starting in January

DeWitt Township Police cars
Posted at 10:32 AM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 10:32:16-05

The DeWitt Township Police Department signed an agreement with the Michigan State Police to use their SNAP facial recognition software, which is meant to help officers identify suspects and crime victims while in the field.

"SNAP stands for Statewide Network of Agency photos, which is a database of 60 million photos," DeWitt Township Police Chief Mike Gute said, which include all Michigan Secretary of State driver's license photos, arrest photos from county jails, photos from Michigan Department of Corrections."

The Michigan State Police have used SNAP since 2001. DeWitt Township police will get access starting in January at no cost. DeWitt Township is the 14th department in the state to use the technology.

"So essentially what would happen is we have somebody that won't tell us who they are, or we don't know who they are or maybe they're incapacitated — they're in a hospital, they can't speak for themselves — or maybe it's a homicide victim that we can't identify," Gute said. "We could take a photo of them and run it through this software program and based off biometrics and off somebody's facial structure, it comes up with an algorithm that gets put into their database and matches it with photos within their database and gives us the photo and the name back with identifiers as to who that person is."

Officers will be able to access the system through on departmental phones and through the computers in their patrol cars, Gute said.

In order to run a photo through the system, an officer must have consent, probable cause or a search warrant unless the person is incapacitated.

Though the method isn't always completely accurate, Gute said it does help.

"It really narrows it down for us. Is it a positive identifier? No. Could we get a warrant for somebody or say that that's exactly who that person is? No," Gute said. "But it at least gives us an avenue to start working our investigation as to trying to figure out who this person is."

Gute was careful to note that the SNAP software does not use photos from social media.

"At times people get concerned with facial recognition thinking that we have cameras out in the public, or on roadways, that this reports to," Gute said. "This is not out there taking photos of people walking up and down the street and then putting that in a database. These are just databases through, basically, state agencies."

DeWitt Township officers will be trained to use the software the first week of January.

Michigan State Police and its SNAP unit could not be reached for comment.

A Michigan State Police facial recognition FAQ sheet can be found here.

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