By Chris Vallance
Reporter, BBC iPM
Police have to manually scan video for suspects
Brands on the clothes of suspects caught on CCTV cameras could be used to help police track them down.
The Metropolitan Police is looking into technology which can automatically identify branded logos on clothing.
Police believe that tracking suspects by their distinctive clothes will help cut down on the manual scanning of hundreds of hours of video footage.
The technology is already used to automatically identify company logos in TV broadcasts of sporting events.
The concept is being considered by Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville of Operation Javelin, who project manages the Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office roll-out programme: a pioneering effort to turn the analysis of CCTV into a forensic discipline like fingerprint or DNA analysis.
DCI Neville has been in discussions with computer visual analysis specialists OmniPerception.
It produces software currently used to identify company logos in TV broadcasts of sporting events, and calculate the time on screen and prominence of brand images.
But DCI Neville believes similar systems could also be used to rapidly recognise heavily branded clothing in CCTV images.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's iPM programme he said, "Many of these young criminals in particular wear distinctive track-suits and coats with logos and sporting emblems and we're going to use that facility to search, link and identify criminals."
Logo recognition is already widely used in sports broadcasting.
"The same tech we use in a Formula One race to find Castrol logos rushing past at 200mph we can use to find DKNY baseball caps on backwards in young men the police are looking for to help them with their inquiries", said OmniPerception's chief executive David McIntosh.
This would be particularly useful where a suspect's face is obscured by a "hoodie" or hat but a distinctive piece of clothing can be seen.
The software would allow officers to quickly analyse hours of CCTV footage, in which the suspect may have appeared, for images containing the distinctive clothing, in the hope of finding pictures that would enable police to make an identification.
"The one thing most of these young criminals are clever enough to realise is that they should not go smiling at the camera," said Mr McIntosh.
"What they do is they tend to go out in a kind of uniform, if you see a kid in a brand of "hoodie" you can be pretty sure he'll be wearing that same brand of "hoodie" the next time he commits an offence."
Even among individuals wearing the same brands there are important differences in personal style which Mr McIntosh said could be used to pick out potential images of a suspect.
At present this kind of analysis has to be done by hand, a laborious process generally only used in investigating very serious crimes.
But the new software can very quickly sort and identify images; by using computer visual analysis it may be possible to apply the procedure to help trace suspects in less serious incidents.
"The intention is we want criminals to fear CCTV so the investment in CCTV is realised - the criminals fear it and the public feel safer," said DCI Neville.