First impressions count, as we often make instant judgments about people from their appearances. Their non-verbal communication—features, postures, and the clothes that they wear—speaks volumes in communicating impressions of their personalities. Nineteenth-century psychiatrist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso went one step further and built his professional reputation upon a theory—now discredited—that a proclivity towards crime was written into someone’s physical DNA and that we could determine intent by simply looking at their features.
Now, in the 21st century, we are revisiting a strand of the theory through the use of technology—facial recognition (FR), providing LP professionals with the ability to use security camera software to accurately identify and distinguish between legitimate customers and troublesome individuals with whom LP has had previous encounters.
Although not Lombrosian in pre-determining criminal intent, it singles out known criminals through their facial characteristics captured on a store’s surveillance cameras. This seemingly futuristic capability is possible through the use of biometric matching software, with algorithms that can render a suspect in vivid 3D and then look for matches in a store’s database of known criminals. This technology is a major step in the marriage of CCTV equipment and business analytics. Why then has FR experienced such a difficult journey to being accepted at face value?
As a technology that rapidly gained traction in a post 9/11 era, FR has come a long way in recent years. Previously the exclusive tool of police, anti-terrorist units, and government intelligence departments for the purposes of preventing the acquisition and use of fake identities, FR is now experiencing significant uptake in the commercial world as a natural progression. Not surprisingly, retailers have been watching this evolution with interest.
Like RFID technology, it has uses beyond retail security, for example in marketing and upselling to loyal customers, but this retail nirvana could only be realized when the accuracy and the price were right.
In the LP world, certainty of identity is paramount so as to make sure that politely asking a person to “leave the store” does not blow up in their faces through some mistaken identity and brand-damaging social media campaign.
Indeed, getting it right could have huge benefits for retailers and change the relationship with law enforcement in an environment of public sector cuts. As of 2015 in the UK, police forces have endured a 20 percent reduction in service across the board with more cuts imminent, and similar stories are prominent across Europe. They simply cannot respond to every shoplifter call out.
In a perfect world where FR technology is cost-effectively employed across an estate, a person identified as someone who is “not welcome” would simply be asked to leave as they attempt to enter the store. This efficiency will save LP staff time, which would otherwise be spent trying to locate, observe, intervene, apprehend, detain, and turn a suspect over to police. If one store has this technology, then it is simply displacing the issue to another store, but if every retailer in a shopping center employed it, FR could have huge time and cost savings and avoid the need for lengthy prosecutions.
This post was excerpted from an article in LP Magazine EU that was published in 2015.