New York, NY – An accused beer thief who bears a striking resemblance to Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson was arrested after police ran the actor’s photo through a facial recognition program to generate potential leads.
Surveillance footage from a CVS store in Manhattan captured the offense, which occurred at approximately 4:48 a.m. on April 18, 2017, FOX News reported.
Investigators with the New York Police Department (NYPD) Facial Identification Section ran a pixelated photo of the unidentified suspect seen in the surveillance footage through their programs, but were unable to find a match.
The suspect strongly resembled a long-haired Harrelson, so one of the detectives tried using a higher-quality photograph of the actor to drum up possible matches, WXIN reported.
The program ended up generating 11 potential matches, one of whom ultimately turned out to be the suspect police were looking for in the CVS store theft.
The unnamed suspect was subsequently arrested on a charge of petty larceny, FOX News reported.
Detectives also used a photo of New York Knick’s player JR Smith to look for a suspect in a Brooklyn assault, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology.
The report blasted law enforcement’s use of celebrity photos to help solve crimes.
“There are no rules when it comes to what images police can submit to face recognition algorithms to generate investigative leads,” the report read. “As a consequence, agencies across the country can—and do—submit all manner of 'probe photos,’ photos of unknown individuals submitted for search against a police or driver license database.”
Computer generated facial features and images from artist sketches have also been used.
“The stakes are too high in criminal investigations to rely on unreliable—or wrong—inputs,” the report read. “It is one thing for a company to build a face recognition system designed to help individuals find their celebrity doppelgänger or painting lookalike for entertainment purposes. It's quite another to use these techniques to identify criminal suspects, who may be deprived of their liberty and ultimately prosecuted based on the match.”
“Unfortunately, police departments' reliance on questionable probe photos appears all too common,” the report read.
The report also noted that the technology has helped NYPD solve nearly 3,000 cases.
Despite the concerns outlined in the report, the NYPD said uses the facial recognition technology responsibly and deliberately as a means of producing leads for a multitude of crimes, FOX News reported.
“No one has ever been arrested on the basis of a facial recognition match alone,” NYPD Sergeant Jessica McRorie said. "As with any lead, further investigation is always needed to develop probable cause to arrest.”