The Seattle Police Department runs its Booking Photo Comparison Software (BPCS) face recognition system through South Sound 911, an intergovernmental agency. Launched in 2014, it contains mug shots from Snohomish, King, and Pierce Counties, doesn’t search driver’s license and ID photos, and is accessible to at least eight regional law enforcement agencies (009378, 009826, 011900). The SPD Manual section on face recognition is publicly available online and requires reasonable suspicion to run a search. It does not allow searches of bystanders or witnesses (009907). The Seattle City Council conditioned funding for the system on the policy’s review and approval by the ACLU of Washington (012666).
When South Sound 911 solicited face recognition vendors, they expressed a preference for a system with “the ability to do face recognition searches against live-feed video” (012048). A 2013 contract and invoices show that such a system was likely purchased (009790, 011078). The Seattle Police Department subsequently acquired the contract and ownership of the system, and has since prohibited the use of real-time video-based face recognition. (011078, 011082).
An FAQ for the system says that it “does not see race, sex, orientation or age” (009377). This contradicts a 2012 FBI co-authored study, and does not reflect the fact that African Americans are likely overrepresented in the system. In King County, for example, they are arrested at a rate 294% higher than their share of the population.
The BPCS system uses an NEC face recognition algorithm (012067).
Sources and Notes: SPD, South Sound 911, King County, IEEE, U.S. Census (Last updated: September 2016). You can review our scorecard criteria in the Methodology section. Numerical citations, e.g. (123456), refer to official records available by clicking "View Documents" below.