Facial recognition software is helping Calgary police nab suspects

System aided by the rise of doorbell cameras and affordable CCTV equipment

Calgary police say images captured by CCTV cameras such as the Ring doorbell are helping them track down suspects.

As camera technology allows for clearer and cheaper cameras, the Calgary Police Service says home CCTV footage is definitely helping them combat break and enters.

Marco Stangherlin hasn’t had any luck just yet catching the people who took several bicycles from his garage in late May, but he was able to get clear footage of one of the perpetrators, when they rang his doorbell.

Stangherlin said he moved to a ‘smart’ security system after a 2016 garage theft.

At that time, six bikes were stolen. So they invested in automated locks and a surveillance system.

His Ring doorbell cam allows him to see who is at the door and speak to them via his phone, even if he is away.

Other features with his in-home security system are supposed to let him know if a door is left unlocked. However in the most recent theft, something did go wrong.

“We’ve got all the tools now to prevent it,” said Stangherlin. “It was just a multitude of factors that allowed the garage to stay open without notifying me on the phone.”

He believes he missed the thieves by just minutes. One of his cameras showed a pair walking down the back alley. When they noticed the open garage door, a female rang at the the front door to see if anyone was home.

Stangherlin said that happened at 1:49 p.m. He was just about to arrive home and didn’t hear the call on his cell phone because he was driving.

The pair made off with several bikes, and he arrived home three minutes later.

He was able to get a clear image of the woman who rang the doorbell. He later posted images around the community to let neighbors know who to watch out for.

Marco Stangherlin put these images up around his Calgary community after having several bikes stolen from his garage.

The attending officer was also glad to see the clear images, and told Stangherlin they would be giving the images to the CPS forensic teams so they could run them through the facial recognition software.

Sgt.  Todd Nicol with Calgary Police Service’s Break and Enter unit said the department’s facial recognition is one of the tools they use when they’re presented with clear CCTV footage,

“The FR tech compares it to our mugshot databases,” said Nicol. “We’re not using social media or those types of more personal uses. It would only compare to those people who were already known to us. “

According to Nicol, the system uses different points on the face to make an identification, but he said sometimes officers recognize known offenders just from the photos.

“People who are engaged in these type of behaviors, it’s rarely a one-off,” he said. “They’re engaged in a criminal lifestyle.”

For those who already have security cameras, Nicol said technology has come a long way in the past five years and said it may be time to upgrade in order to get better quality images.

“Also think about camera placement and catching faces,” he said. “Make sure the faces aren’t obscured by ball caps because cameras are mounted too high, or mounted in a place where there’s light shining into them.”

Stangherlin said he’s learned lessons from this second theft. Going forward his bikes will be locked inside the garage as an added level of protection.

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