Using technology to identify police who refuse to identify themselves

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Using technology to identify police who refuse to identify themselves

Attending anti-police brutality protests in Portland, police weren't displaying badge numbers Eventually created a "helmet number" which isn't linked to their badge number or name Legal teams filed public info requests and were given a convoluted process.

Lucy Parsons Labs built a tool that let people upload images of police/identify police in images.

A volunteer came along with experience with Amazon facial recognition tools and built a machine learning tool to help match pictures to police.

Volunteers get additional data from social media

The machine learning "game" asks viewers reCAPTCHA-like questions - e.g. "Are there law enforcement officers in this picture?"

Can upload an image of a police officer and it will tell you the probability that it's one of the officers in the database based on facial recognition tools

Facial recognition software stack - has been developed twice, once with Amazon (AWS) tools and once with Google tools. A bunch of serverless node.js tools, lots of gluing together existing tools more than writing lots of code. Uses Docker for deployment.

Ways to help:

  • Documentation of the deployment process is weak.
  • Ideally the online database tools would sync to a shared spreadsheet
  • More flexibility in mechanisms to add new searchable fields to handle PD-specific identity mechanisms
  • Wrote manual scripts to scrape photos from various websites

Currently developing a mobile app to allow upload photos directly from phone. Considering an augmented reality app that lets you hold up a phone and overlay an identification on an officer.


  • Can't file an Internal Review Board complaint without knowing the identity of the officer
  • Can get charges dropped when you can prove the arresting officer on the paperwork isn't the person who made the arrest
  • Lawsuits

Portland PD generally uses fake names in LinkedIn/Facebook - this data is generally kept separate out of legal concerns

Don't publish out-of-uniform photos, home addresses, social media identities for legal reasons

Legality of filming police varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction

Host outside the country - the more jurisdictions you create the harder it is to get ahold of data.

Only name publicly attached to the project is the civil liberties lawyer doing the legal filings.