Stopping shoplifters with facial recognition technology and a smile

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - You’re paying for other people to steal and it`s costing billions.  Now a retired police major thinks he has a unique way to fight it, facial recognition technology that could help store managers stop shoplifters with a smile.

Retailer Christopher Thau says, “The holiday season is the worst, when we have the crowds.  You know it`s the season of receiving, giving and shoplifting.”

Thau owns Christopher`s in Kirkwood.  He added, “If we recognize them as a suspicious character, we follow them around and we sort of hound them out of the store.  I hate to put it that way but that`s what we do.”

He says shoplifters jump from store to store, so shop owners and managers help each other, sometimes passing around pictures of potential suspects.

Thau said, “We work together very well.  It’s excellent.”

Shoplifters are getting bolder, like an October incident that turned into an assault when a suspect plowed over an 87-year-old nun.  Security video showed him running out the door of a sporting goods store with stolen clothing.

Reported shoplifters at West County Center drove onto a sidewalk in January, before police shot into the vehicle.

Retired police major Joseph Spiess said, “You have chronic thieves who really, this is their job.”  He continued, “When I left the St. Louis Police Department, we saw people arrested 30, 40, 50 times often they wouldn`t even go to jail.”

Spiess is now a senior partner with Blue Line Technology, using facial recognition software to help police and businesses who need to track potential threats.

He demonstrated saying, “Our CEO Paul comes through, you see within a tenth of a second he is boxed in as red.”

If it gets a hit, a store manager will get an immediate alert on his or her phone with a picture.  What do they do?  They greet that customer with a smile and offer to help.  Spiess added, “I`m as nice to you as I can be.  What I want to impress upon you is that I know you`re there.”  He added, “They`re going to leave.  They`re not going to steal and you`re not going to have the violent act behind it.”

Chris Thau says he noticed a drop in shoplifting after installing traditional cameras.  He`s also noticed that that suspects don`t come back once they think you`ve caught on.  He said, “The thieves are pretty smart that way, they are not going to keep going back to the same well.”

Spiess says the facial recognition for retailers would work best as a shared network, where multiple stores can enter information on shoplifters.  It’s similar to the way Chris Thau described retailers passing around pictures of possible shoplifters.

It also can help businesses wanting to prevent workplace violence, by looking for possible disgruntled former employees or ex-boyfriends/girlfriends who might face restraining orders from employees.