(KMOV.com) — High-tech crime fighting equipment is coming to the St. Louis area.
Facial recognition computer equipment will be available to law enforcement departments on both sides of the river.
An arm of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments manages Homeland Security grants and is requesting bids from vendors for the equipment and software.
While it's generally known as a "facial recognition system" Nick Gragnani says it's more of a "mug shot comparison system,” and it's a huge step forward for police.
“If someone robs a bank and cameras capture that face we then take that picture, put it into a computer system through a scanning system and that goes through the existing mug shot data basis looking for known criminals that would match that picture,” he said. “It's no different than a detective or a victim going through binders of pictures looking for a match of that individual."
Privacy rights advocates have raised concerns over facial recognition systems but the proposed system is not one that would use cameras to capture your image when you're just walking down the street in public. It would only be used to identify a suspect based on a data base of mug shots. a database that would include perhaps up to half a million facial images.
Supporters point to the Boston Marathon bombings as an example of how valuable the system can be.
Investigators had security camera shots of the Tsarnaev Brothers but no identification.
“They put it on the news in the Boston area, ‘have you seen these two.’ If they'd had this system, the older brother, the one that was killed was already a known criminal in law enforcement agencies, They would have been able to tag him relatively quick using this type of system,” said Gragnani.
He added if investigators wanted to expand the database- to perhaps look through driver's license photos- it would take a court order from a judge.
Bids are expected back in the next couple weeks. It will take months to design the system but it could be in place by the first of the year.