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MSU software matches police sketches with mugshots

Nov 12, 2014

A hand-drawn composite and a mugshot of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.
Credit Michigan State University

Researchers at Michigan State University have developed software to help nab criminals when there is no photo of a suspect or when the photo or video is of very poor quality.

The new FaceSketchID System matches police sketches with large photo databases of mug shots and drivers licenses.

Anil Jain, an MSU professor of computer science and engineering, led the research team.  He said this is another tool for identifying a possible suspect when the police only have visual descriptions from witnesses. "The face-recognition systems which we have match two photos," he said. "But they don't do very well in matching a composite with a photo. So that's the gap which we have filled through our research."

Police sketches are usually made for the most serious crimes like murder, sexual assault, or armed robbery, according to Jain. But it can take a long time to get tips from the public using police sketches.

Jain said the software can find potential matches out of a million photos in just a few seconds – if the sketch quality is good and the suspect is in the database. 

He said MSU recently licensed FaceSketch to Morpho, which he described as the world's largest biometrics company. Jain hopes the software will be used by more law enforcement agencies around the world.

– Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom