Security is taken very seriously at the Carnahan Courthouse. Sheriff James Murphy says it's not uncommon for people to try to smuggle weapons inside the courthouse. To prove the point he sorted through a box full of confiscated items, including a knife disguised as a comb.
"The judges, not very often, but they do get threats from people," Murphy said.
That's why Sheriff Murphy consented to a pilot program testing new facial recognition technology at the courthouse he supervises. St. Louis Police Major Joe Spiess and other current and former police officers, created the company that developed the new system which could be used at schools, workplaces, or retail stores.
"The beta process is getting the bugs out, testing the system as hard as we can, and making sure that it's accurate and fast and reliable," Spiess said.
The facial recognition cameras at the courthouse compare images of visitors to specific photos stored in the facial recognition system. If someone threatened a judge or a prosecutor, they could alert the officers running the technology about a security risk. A photo of the person making the threat could be added to the computer. If that person showed up at the courthouse, a warning signal would show up on the screen, followed by warnings sent to the cellphones of law enforcement or people who need to avoid danger.
"That early notification system on the person's iPhone gives them the chance to either run or hide or react appropriately when they need to," Spiess said.
"The system is really exciting because it gives you an opportunity to look at the prevention side of this so that law-enforcement, security or managers in the store can prevent ,instead of just respond."
Spiess said the beta test will continue for another 3 to 4 months. When asked about personal privacy concerns, Major Spiess said the only facial images that are kept are the ones the computer system is looking for from people who pose a threat.