Home News London police using crime-fighting "super recognizers"

London police using crime-fighting "super recognizers"

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Gary Collins is a constable in the London Metropolitan Police Force with a talent for recognizing faces, which earned him the nickname “super recognizer.”

Collins is not only able to recognize faces of people he has seen if the picture or video is clear. He can also identify faces from low grain pictures and even partial pictures, regardless of how long ago he saw the person’s face.

The London Police at Scotland Yard use all kinds of technology to solve crimes, but they've discovered the best tool may be the human eyeball.  This is Gary Collins, one of many "super recognizers" used by the London Police. Screen shot from video.
The London Police at Scotland Yard use all kinds of technology to solve crimes, but they’ve discovered the best tool may be the human eyeball. This is Gary Collins, one of many “super recognizers” used by the London Police. Screen shot from video.

In a New York Times article, some of Collins’ peers explained just how good he is at identifying faces by recalling a 2011 case that Collins helped them solve.

He spends his days going over images, looking at suspects and can recognize someone he's seen only once possibly years earlier. Screen shot from video.
He spends his days going over images, looking at suspects and can recognize someone he’s seen only once possibly years earlier. Screen shot from video.

In the 2011 case, the London Metropolitan Police Force was having trouble identifying a man who had been setting fires to cars, beating up passers-by, and stealing from shops.

The police had difficulty identifying the man because he wore a black hat that he had pulled down over his forehead and had a red bandana covering everything but his eyes.

When Collins walked into the room, he took a quick look at the picture and immediately identified the man.

To further illustrate how uncanny Collins’ talent is, during the London riots in 2011, facial recognition software was able to identify one of the 4,000 suspects caught on camera. Collins was able to identify 180.

Security software with facial recognition is supposed to be able to spot a face in the crowd and identify who they are, however at Scotland Yard they've discovered the human eye is more effective.
Security software with facial recognition is supposed to be able to spot a face in the crowd and identify who they are, however at Scotland Yard they’ve discovered the human eye is more effective.

“Computers are no match for the super recognizers,” said Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, head of the Central Forensic Image Team at Scotland Yard and mastermind of the squad.

Collins, who grew up in North London and still patrols its streets, has become quite famous among fellow officers and criminals.

Looting and rioting caught on CCTV during the summer of 2011 can only be helpful is suspects can be identified. That is where the "super recognizers" at Scotland yard step in. Screen shot from video.
Looting and rioting caught on CCTV during the summer of 2011 can only be helpful is suspects can be identified. That is where the “super recognizers” at Scotland yard step in. Screen shot from video.

After a raid, one of the criminals that were arrested asked: “Who ID’d me? Who is this Gary Collins?” When Collins identified himself, he said, “Man, everyone in prison is talking about you.”

According to Collins, the two men still see each other in the streets.

“He’ll test me on his gang mates: ‘What’s his name?’ he’ll ask,” Collins said. “When I tell them they cheer and give me a high five.”

As a child, Collins didn’t realize how talented he was. “I always recognized people, but as a kid you don’t know you have a gift, you just think everybody is like you.”

It was after Collins joined the police in 1995 that he knew that he had a special gift. As a young officer, he spent hours looking at pictures of neighborhood criminals. Any time he came across any of them; he would tell his partner their name.

Back then, his partner always wondered how he knew their names; now he doesn’t have to anymore.

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