Cop Trainer Encouraging Cops To Run Facial Recognition Searches On People During Traffic Stops

from the never-mind-the-local-laws,-I-guess dept

Cops are out there giving each other bad advice. An instructor for Street Cop Training — a New Jersey based provider of officer training programs — is telling officers it’s ok to run facial recognition searches during routine traffic stops, when not encouraging them to go further with their potential rights violations.

In a podcast recently uncovered by Caroline Haskins for Insider, Maryland detective Nick Jerman tells listeners there’s nothing wrong with running a facial image against publicly available databases during a traffic stop.

In a July 2021 episode of the Street Cop Podcast with Dennis Benigno, the company’s founder, Jerman encouraged using facial recognition software to determine the identity of the person pulled over. The Street Cop Podcast is advertised as “The training that cops deserve” and, along with Street Cop Training’s other programs, is marketed to active-duty police.

“Let’s say you’re on a traffic stop and we have someone in the car that we suspect may be wanted,” Benigno asked during the episode. “What do we do in that situation?”

“Well there’s a couple of paid programs you can use where you can take their picture, and it’ll put it in,” Jerman said, referring to facial recognition tools, before recommending “another one called PimEyes you can use.” PimEyes is a free, public-facing facial-recognition search engine.

The legality of running searches like this is still up in the air. If there’s nothing beyond suspicion a vehicle occupant might be a wanted suspect, officers would likely have to develop something a little more reasonable before engaging in searches — like utilizing a facial recognition program — unrelated to the traffic stop. And in some states and cities, it is very definitely illegal, thanks to recent facial recognition tech bans. Just because the cops may not own the tech utilized during these searches doesn’t necessarily make actions like these legal.

But that’s not the only potential illegality Detective Jerman (who, as Haskins points out, is currently being investigated by his department over some very questionable social media posts) encourages. He notes that in many states officers cannot demand people they stop ID themselves, especially when they’re just passengers in a vehicle. He recommends this bit of subterfuge to obtain this information without consent.

“How about, you’re in a situation where you can’t compel ID and before you even ask you’re like there’s something not right with this guy and he’s gonna lie,” Benigno said.

Jerman suggested getting the person’s phone number, either by asking the person, or by accusing the person of stealing a phone in the car and asking if they can call the phone in order to exonerate them.

“[Say] ‘I see that phone in the car, we’ve had a lot of thefts of phones,’ say ‘Is that really your phone?’ and then you can call it to see if that’s the real phone number,” Jerman said. “If you can get the phone number from your target, the world is your oyster.”

Once a cop has a phone number, they can use third-party services to discover the phone owner’s name and may be able to find any social media accounts associated with that phone number. The request may sound innocuous — seeking to see if a phone is stolen — but the end result may be someone unwittingly sharing a great deal about themselves with an officer.

Detective Jerman also provides classes on how to create fake social media accounts using freely accessible tools. He does this despite knowing it’s a terms of service violation and appears to believe that since there’s no law against it, officers should avail themselves of this subterfuge option. He has also made social media posts mocking Facebook and others for telling cops they’re breaking the platform’s rules when they do this.

But far more worrisome is something he admitted on another Street Cop Training podcast:

He recounted that at a wedding a few years ago, his friend wanted to approach a woman in a red dress because he “thought she was pretty hot.” Jerman said that on the spot, he did a geofence Instagram search for recent posts near the wedding venue. He found a picture with the woman in the red dress, named Marilisa, posted by her friend, Amanda.

“Then you can start gaining intel on Amanda, then you can go back to Marilisa and start talking to her as if you know her friend Amanda,” Jerman said.

Even his host, Street Cop Training founder Dennis Bengino, seemed to consider Jerman’s actions to be a little creepy. But that appears to be Detective Jerman’s MO: the exploitation of any service or platform to obtain information on anyone he runs into, whether it’s at a wedding or during a pretextual traffic stop.

Despite Jerman’s insistence that none of this breaks any laws, the actual legality of these actions is still up in the air. The lack of courtroom precedent saying otherwise is not synonymous with “lawful.” Cases involving tactics like these are bound to result in challenges of arrests or evidence, and it’s not immediately clear running unjustified searches clears the (very low) bar for reasonableness during investigative stops.

However, Jerman’s big mouth and enthusiasm for exploitation should make it clear what’s at stake when cops start asking questions, no matter how innocuous the questions may initially appear. And documents like the one obtained by Insider — one that lists dozens of publicly accessible search tools and facial recognition AI — should serve as a warning to anyone stopped by police officers. Imagine the creepiest things a stalker might do to obtain information about you. Now, imagine all of that in the hands of someone with an incredible amount of power, easy access to weapons, and an insular shield on non-accountability surrounding them.

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Comments on “Cop Trainer Encouraging Cops To Run Facial Recognition Searches On People During Traffic Stops”

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Koby (profile) says:

Manufacturing Suspicion

The legality of running searches like this is still up in the air. If there’s nothing beyond suspicion a vehicle occupant might be a wanted suspect, officers would likely have to develop something a little more reasonable before engaging in searches

Sounds like a job for parallel reconstruction — run the facial recognition first, then claim that they remember the subject from a wanted bulletin. Simply engaging in facial recognition at all seems like a way to end-run around the usual search procedure.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

We have no evidence that anything might be hinkey, beyond a gut feel.. so find ways to violate citizens rights quietly.

Imagine if they stopped doing stupid shit like this that ends up draining the budget to pay the settlements.
There might finally be enough money to run all the rape kits they’ve been ignoring. I mean its likely they might catch a brother officer that way so I can understand the resistance.

Anonymous Coward says:

4th amendment

looks like the 4th amendment needs an update!
i keep trying to find ways government can use facial recognition tech without violating the 4th amendment and i ALWAYS seem to come up with nothing!
the only VALID reason i can conclude for it’s use is if you can demand ID then using facial recognition would be the only time it can be used!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: It makes sense

I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but I was allowed to legally rent a car and drive in the US on my UK driving licence in the days before they had photos on them (I’m talking mid 90s). I’d imagine that most have been forced to upgrade since, but it could be technically possible for people to drive with a foreign licence that doesn’t have a photo on it, though how many of those remain is questionable and I’m sure it would confuse small town cops to no end.

But, to Danny’s point – whether or not the licence has a photo, surely the cop would want to check if it actually belongs to the person driving? Which would involve removing the mask…

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