The Arizona Department of Public Safety’s (AZDPS) Forensic Images Unit (FIU) is housed at the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC) in Phoenix. Since 2016, the FIU has utilized Facial Recognition (FR) technology to assist federal, state, county, municipal, and tribal law enforcement agencies throughout the United States with furthering criminal investigations by developing investigative leads of unknown subjects. The FIU is established as a national model in the field of facial recognition and investigators assigned to the unit are experts in the field of facial comparison and identification.
In June 2022, AZDPS implemented an upgrade to the Arizona Biometric Information System (ABIS) to include vast improvements to the Department’s FR technology and providing tattoo recognition capabilities. The tattoo database has approximately 1.4 million images, obtained during criminal booking procedures.
On June 23, 2022, AZDPS utilized tattoo recognition technology in response to an urgent request from the Phoenix Police Department (PPD). The PPD requested assistance identifying a homicide victim who had sustained a gunshot wound to the head – preventing the use of FR technology – and whose fingerprints did not return a record. An FIU detective utilized the new ABIS tattoo recognition software to forensically examine three distinct tattoos on the victim’s person, developing a strong investigative lead. Based on the lead, PPD furthered their investigation by positively identifying the victim of the homicide. This marked the first successful use of tattoo recognition to identify an unknown person in the State of Arizona.
Fresh off this success, on July 21, 2022, the FIU received another urgent request from the Gila River Police Department (GRPD) attempting to identify a deceased female who had been exposed to the elements and was in an advanced state of decomposition. The Office of the Medical Examiner was unable to obtain fingerprints through traditional forensic methods. Utilizing tattoo recognition software, an FIU detective forensically examined several tattoos, two of which resulted in a strong investigative lead. GRPD investigated further and positively identified the subject, allowing them to provide next-of-kin notification to the family.
AZDPS is committed to ensuring the FR program is utilized in an ethical manner, within established laws, with the goal of enhancing public safety. The program’s foundation has been built on continuous, extensive research on FR software and technology, including evaluating how law enforcement utilizes FR technology throughout the world, applicable law enforcement policies, established laws surrounding FR, the accuracy of FR software, and related privacy issues.
AZDPS utilizes the guidelines and recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC), Facial Identification Subcommittee. All investigators assigned to the FIU are active members of the Facial Identification Scientific Working Group, an international working group that develops standards, guidelines, and best practices for the discipline of image-based comparisons of human features.
The AZDPS FIU is an award-winning unit and has received international awards for its success in utilizing FR technology to further investigations and solve crimes.