A Woody Harrelson lookalike was arrested for theft after New York City police ran a picture of the Hollywood actor through a facial recognition program in an attempt to identify the suspect, a recent report revealed.
On April 28, 2017, an unidentified man was caught on cameras allegedly stealing a beer at around 4:48 a.m. from a Manhattan CVS, the New York Police Department said at the time.
The image of the suspect, taken from the surveillance footage, was extremely pixelated and turned up no results when investigators with the Facial Identification Section ran it through their systems.
According to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology published on Thursday, an FSI detective noticed that the suspect resembled actor Woody Harrelson, famous for his roles in Cheers, Natural Born Killers and True Detective.
Investigators used high-quality images of Harrelson found on Google and submitted them in place of the suspect’s more pixelated image. The result ended in a match.
An unidentified man was booked and charged for petty larceny.
NYPD police conducted a similar process using the photo of a New York Knicks player to find a man wanted for an assault in Brooklyn. The report stated that the player’s name had been redacted in this case.
The report points to this process of using a celebrity “match” to find suspects as inaccurate and fallible.
“The stakes are too high in criminal investigations to rely on unreliable—or wrong—inputs,” the report states. “It is one thing for a company to build a face recognition system designed to help individuals find their celebrity doppelgänger or painting lookalike for entertainment purposes. It’s quite another to use these techniques to identify criminal suspects, who may be deprived of their liberty and ultimately prosecuted based on the match.”
But the NYPD said it has been deliberate and responsible in its use of facial recognition and that the technology is merely a means of producing leads, including in homicide, rape and robbery cases.
“No one has ever been arrested on the basis of a facial recognition match alone,” Sgt. Jessica McRorie said in a statement to The Associated Press. “As with any lead, further investigation is always needed to develop probable cause to arrest.”
The Georgetown report says facial recognition has helped the NYPD crack about 2,900 cases in more than five years of using the technology.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.