Met Police roll out facial recognition technology to tackle London’s shoplifting

Britain’s biggest police force is using facial recognition technology to tackle London’s worst shoplifters by matching CCTV stills to mugshots.

The Metropolitan Police said 149 suspects were identified within days after asking the capital’s 12 leading retailers last month for images of their 30 most prolific unidentified offenders.

Some of the suspects have links to serious crime, while all of them have previously been arrested for crimes including drug dealing, sexual offences, burglary, violence and possession of firearms.

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley called the results “game-changing” as his force tries to crack down on shoplifting, with its rise blamed on the cost of living crisis and organised crime.

The government has come under increasing pressure from retailers to get a grip on the retail crime responsible for the loss of an estimated £1.9bn in revenue in the UK each year.

Earlier this month, policing minister Chris Philp suggested passport photos could be integrated into the police database to find a CCTV match.

The Met said its facial recognition technology can match features against police mugshots in about a minute – and officers will now work with stores to build a case against the suspects identified from 302 CCTV stills and track them down.

Sir Mark said: “We’re working with shops across the capital to target and track down criminals in a way we never have before.

“We’re pushing the boundaries and using innovation and technology to rapidly identify criminals.

“The results we’ve seen so far are game-changing. The use of facial recognition in this way could revolutionise how we investigate and solve crime.”

The Met said one in 10 Londoners works in retail with more than 1,000 cases of abuse and violence reported against staff every year.

Sir Mark said the use of facial recognition technology has shown most of the suspects are career criminals involved in serious crime.

“Through this tactic we’re not only improving how we protect shops and support the business community, we’re stepping further forward in identifying and tracking down serious criminals and protecting all of London’s communities,” he said.

“The scale of business crime in London is huge. To be successful we have to be precise in our approach and this is a really promising step forward.”

The Met started using the software in August and began the retail pilot in late September.

The force says the facial recognition algorithm has been independently tested through the National Physical Laboratory with an assurance it’s 100% accurate when used retrospectively.

Threat to privacy

But Emmanuelle Andrews, from human rights charity Liberty, said facial recognition technology “has no place on our streets, in our shops – or in any other areas of our lives”.

She added: “This technology threatens our privacy and stifles free speech – and we should all be worried about moves to expand its reach.

“We’re also concerned about the creep of facial recognition technology into other areas of policing.

“Let’s be clear: we cannot rely on tech to solve deep societal problems, this is an unjustified expansion of state surveillance and there are numerous alternatives.”

Around 50,000 shoplifting incidents were reported to the Met last year, estimated to be between 5% and 10% of the offences that are actually committed.