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Politics & Current Affairs

Are You Good At Remembering Faces? Scotland Yard Wants You

Since 2011, the London agency has employed a team of “super-recognizers” who have an exceptional memory for faces. Despite their success, legal experts say their use could raise questions about what’s considered allowable testimony in court.

What’s the Latest Development?

London’s Scotland Yard can lay claim to a unique group of police officers, all of whom share the same ability: They never forget a face. Known as “super recognizers,” they are able to identify individuals from surveillance photos and videos with surprising accuracy. Says unit creator Mick Neville: “When we have an image of an unidentified criminal, I know exactly who to ask instead of sending it out to everyone and getting a bunch of false leads.” They have even helped prevent some crimes from taking place: During a major carnival, officers scanned surveillance videos and pointed out known criminals, after which police presence was increased as a preemptive measure.

What’s the Big Idea?

Unlike with fingerprints and DNA, Scotland Yard had no system in place that allowed identification from images. Despite their success, the super recognizers are human and therefore imperfect, which concerns legal experts like London School of Economics professor Mike Redmayne: “Unless we subject them to (rigorous testing), then we are just taking their word on trust and we have no reason to do this.” However, University of Greenwich psychologist Josh Davis is impressed by their abilities, and is in the process of examining the officers in hopes of developing a test the agency can use for new recruits.

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