Police used facial recognition technology to help identify uncooperative suspect in Capital Gazette shooting

Anne Arundel County police ran Jarrod Warren Ramos’ photo through a database of millions of images from driver’s licenses, mug shots and other records to help identify him as the suspect in Thursday’s Capital Gazette shooting.

Police Chief Timothy Altomare said Friday that officials used the Maryland Image Repository System to determine who Ramos was. The 38-year-old Laurel man was not cooperating, and police were facing a lag in getting results from a fingerprint search, so the chief said they turned to technology to move as quickly as possible.

The facial recognition software — used by thousands of law enforcement officials in agencies across the region since 2011 — lets the authorities scan images of suspects and compare their faces against millions of stored photographs from the state and federal repositories. The technology measures the width of a suspect’s nose, or the shape of an ear, for instance, against the dimensions of others’ faces until the software finds potential matches for investigators to consider.

“The Facial Recognition System performed as designed,” ​Stephen T. Moyer, Maryland’s public safety secretary, said in a statement. “It has been and continues to be a valuable tool for fighting crime in our state.”

The public safety department operates and maintains the database.

Maryland’s facial recognition software has been controversial.

Civil liberties groups have argued that such programs invade the right to privacy, and some put the technology in the same category as cellphone tracking and aerial surveillance. Its use drew scrutiny after the database was used to monitor protesters during the rioting in Baltimore in 2015 after Freddie Gray’s death.

Maryland’s system has been considered more advanced than those of other states because of the vast number of images available, including more than 10 million from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, mug shots and other photographs of arrestees. Some states provide only driver’s licenses, and other states have prohibited the use altogether.

Complete coverage of the Capital Gazette shooting »

As of 2016, as many as 6,000 or 7,000 law enforcement officials had access to the database. Officials said the system at times was accessed more than 175 times in a single week.

Police agencies across the Baltimore region have confirmed using it. Images from driver’s licenses and state ID cards are uploaded to the database daily.

The state paid $185,000 for an outside company to maintain the database.

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